Colorado Winds Up With Wind

Colorado was third in the nation in new installed wind generating capacity for the second quarter of 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Colorado installed 75 megawatts of new wind power with completion of PPM Energy’s Twin Buttes project near Lamar.

Texas built 603 megawatts of new wind power in the second quarter and Illinois 198 megawatts. Texas leads the nation in total installed wind capacity, with 3,352 MW. Colorado is currently in 10th place nationally in wind generating capacity, with 367 megawatts. The state could soon jump to as high as third, however, with completion of three projects currently under construction, including the 400 MW Peetz Table Wind Energy Center.In virtually every scenario for reducing carbon emissions to combat global climate change, wind power plays a critical role. It is the alternative energy source that is most commercially developed, and which can replace conventional energy sources in the near-term.

While the industry nationally will add over 3,000 megawatts of new wind power this year — a new record, AWEA says:

“This bullish performance by the industry is tempered by supply chain shortages and policy uncertainty — two barriers that are related. Wind power developers report that turbine availability is a limiting factor — in other words, there is demand for even more wind energy but companies can’t build more projects because there aren’t enough new wind turbines to buy.

“And, in turn, there aren’t enough manufacturing facilities for turbines and turbine parts in the country because the U.S. government’s intermittent policy toward renewables has discouraged companies from investing in manufacturing facilities.”

While the reality of global warming has virtually all conservation groups supporting wind energy development, that support does not come without caveats. Wind energy can be rough on wildlife, particularly birds and bats, often in ways that are not obvious.

“There are challenges,” says Ken Strom, director of conservation for Audubon Colorado. “Audubon and other environmental groups certainly want to see wind energy succeed, so we begin at that point. But it is not totally benign when it comes ot impacts on wildlife. We’ve been trying to make the point that you’ve got to be careful about how you construct these things.

When wind farms were first constructed beginning about 20 years ago, the big problem was direct mortality from spinning turbines. California’s Altamont wind farm was notorious in this regard. It’s high-speed blades were spinning in a mountain pass that was a major migratory route for hawks and eagles. That particular facility continues to mow down birds in alarming numbers, but modern wind farms use slower speed blades and are less alluring to perching birds. So direct mortality is less of a problem.

“Everybody focuses on direct mortality,” Strom says, “But the bigger impact from wind farms in the future has to do with habitat loss and degradation rather than direct mortality.

“The big issue here in Colorado and out in the Great Plains generally is the open grasslands where a lot of future wind farms will be built. The very act of putting in a wind farm that covers thousands and thousands of acres fragments the habitat. It’s broken up not just with turbines, but with the roads connecting them and power lines

“From the air, a wind farm doesn’t look all that different from an oil and gas field.”

Prairie and ground-nesting bird species have also evolved to avoid nesting in spots near tall landscape features like trees — or windmills. This is for the perfectly understandable reason that these features offer good perches for predators like hawks. So having wind farms covering millions of acres of habitats across the U.S. can segment habitat, creating less optimal breeding habitat for birds.

No matter whose economic projections you read, industry or conservation group, wind power plays an increasingly important role in the national energy mix until at least 2050. AWEA notes that this year the wind energy industry is on track to add over 3,000 megawatts of power, the largest increase ever, topping the 2006 new installations of 2,454 MW.

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Dan Whipple

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