Wind energy is a good renewable solution for parts of the nation. The challenge with wind is accommodating its variability and uncertainty. It means that using the current technology, wind must work in conjunction with natural gas powered plants that could be started quickly to fill production gaps. It increases the capital costs of the electrical utilities.
We have good wind conditions only in parts of the country (like the great plains and the NE off-shore), and the cost of transmission rises with the distance. Therefore, because of instability, cost and distance, wind can only supply a few percent of our electrical consumption. Understanding the limitations of wind does not mean that we should not use it — on the contrary — but only in areas where it makes economic sense.
There are policies and technologies (existing and under development) that can increase the percentage of safe use of wind technology. A feasibility cost study of each should be conducted. The cost of wind power is becoming very competitive. Prioritizing the methods that will allow us to improve its penetration is economically sensible.
The policy should focus on:
- Extend the federal credits for the next 10-15 years. The current short term regulations create instability for the investors and slow down the development of wind solutions. Investors need stability and predictability. The current renew/don’t renew political episodes every couple of years is bad for our country.
- Improving the wind technologies until it becomes price competitive and does not require federal and local government subsidies. The cost of wind power is close to being competitive. The bottleneck is material costs and turbine production rate. Market forces are already at work.
- Removing federal and local roadblocks for building wind power stations. NIMBY regulations may be required to speed-up implementation.
- Wind electricity faces the same power transmission problems as all new energy locations (See transmission). Solving the transmission bottleneck is critical for renewable technologies.
A longer term goal is the development of cheap large capacity storage of electricity. It will allow the usage of generated energy based on demand and will greatly boost the economical viability of wind technology. When large capacity energy storage becomes available, our solar and wind policies will need to change.