July 13, 2008
An Altitude Change on Wind Power
There is ample evidence America's future for wind energy is mainly on the plains, not atop its peaks. If so, projects like TransCanada's 132-megawatt windfarm in northern Franklin County is perhaps the last of its kind.
Maybe it should be.
Oilman T. Boone Pickens, whose blood would likely trade for $140/ barrel, is repositioning himself as America's voice of reason on alternative energy. His company is building the country's largest wind-farm - a 4,000 megawatt field in Pampa, Texas. Kibby's turbines would only produce 3.3 percent of Pampa's output.
Pickens is expounding the plains potential for wind in the "Pickens Plan," his well-publicized campaign advocating to massive American investment into wind.
In short, his plan contends wind should replace natural gas as an electrical generator. Natural gas, then, should be targeted for transportation, to lessen demand for foreign oil. Natural gas, Pickens says, is the holy trinity of energy: It's cheap, clean and domestic.
Pickens grand design is smart, but his philosophy might be smarter: increase development of one energy source to decrease demand for another, and use the newfound flexibility to accelerate expansion of other alternatives.
His first domino, however, is wind. And while there is wind atop "them thar hills," there's much more in the country's rippling mid- section. Great Plains states, Pickens says, have the most wind energy potential in the world.
Like Pickens pushing the plains, Maine utilities also see the "plains" as a wind resource: Aroostook County. This is why Central Maine Power and Maine Public Service, Aroostook's utility, wish to spend billions to attach their grids.
If their transmission plans are successful, the utilities will construct an electrical superhighway from northern Maine into the regional grid, and create opportunities for energy entrepreneurs to invest on either end of it.
This should hearten environmentalists, mountain advocates and residents who disagree with turbines in the western peaks. The Kibby project, though it earned approval this week, has been under appeal since its re-zoning in March.
Turbines at high altitude just seem to attract controversy. Contested wind power plans for peaks in Roxbury and Byron, Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain were all proposed for above 2,000 feet.
By comparison, a 38-megawatt wind farm on Stetson Mountain is on a 600-1,000 foot ridgeline.
As the country's energy needs grow graver, however, it makes little sense to strive for peaks, when the greater energy potential is on the plains. This is the clear message from T. Boone Pickens mouth and money, and from the electrical transmission plans in Maine.
And, perhaps, it is the death knell for mountaintop wind farms.
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