Could An All-Wind Energy Future Be in Our Sights

As wind power generation continues to expand around the world, a new estimate by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that America has even more untapped wind resources than previously thought. But will we capitalize on it?

Worldwide, wind power breezed through the tough economic times last year. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, some 37.5 gigawatts of wind power capacity was added to the global energy mix in 2009, an increase of almost a third.

The American Wind Energy Association reports that the U.S. didn't do too shabby itself, installing a record-breaking 10 GW of new wind power, bringing total wind capacity up to 35 GW.

But, per the revised estimates just released by the NREL, America has the potential capacity of 10,000 GW. That's equivalent to 37 million gigawatt-hours every year, more than nine times the amount of energy consumed by Americans. And that’s just onshore wind resources — add in offshore and high altitude wind resources, and that number would grow exponentially.

Given the fact that we’re using a mere fraction of our vast wind resources — and considering how many jobs the wind industry could create with a little support from the federal government — you’d think we were going all in with the wind, right? Not so much.

The biggest holdup is the lack of an ambitious national Renewable Energy Standard. Without it, there is too much uncertainty about whether or not the wind industry will become competitive against the fossil fuels industry — which does receive major subsidies from the federal government — making potential investors weary.

Establishing a national target of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 would also create 274,000 new jobs.

The two renewable energy standards on the table, however, fall well short of that mark. The RESs outlined in the House and Senate climate bills call for 20 percent and 15 percent renewables by 2020, respectively. And even those targets are soft, as both bills would allow efficiency measures to be substituted for renewable energy in some cases. This means that the national standards called for by the House and Senate bills would likely result in less renewable energy than we’d already achieve anyway under state renewable energy standards.

There are a host of other factors blocking development of wind energy: our continued reliance on, and massive subsidies for, fossil fuels; deliberate obstruction and misinformation campaigns orchestrated by the fossil fuel industries that would lose money if we switched to renewables; and NIMBYism, to name a few. Most of these have been brought to bear on the Cape Wind project, which would be the first large-scale offshore wind project in America if it was completed. It will have a significant effect on the future of wind power in the country, one way or another.

As Americans, we have the opportunity to choose what our energy future will be. Will we choose to build a clean, healthy future on renewable energy — and create jobs to boot — or will we stick with the dirty, polluting energy sources of the past?