10. Wind


Wind-based electricity generating capacity has increased markedly in the United States since 1970, although it remains a small fraction of total electric capacity. Technological improvements in wind turbines have helped reduce capital and operating costs. Some new turbines are reported to generate electricity for less than 5 cents per kilowatthour.(3) Although there are several constraints limiting wind energy's contribution to the U.S. energy supply, significant wind energy resources, some of which are currently economical, are located near existing high-voltage transmission lines, resulting in large potential wind energy capability.

Wind is an emerging renewable energy resource that produces no air or water pollution, involves no toxic or hazardous substances, and poses minimal threats to public safety. These and other potential benefits have prompted encouragement of wind energy projects by means of Federal and State tax credits, including a tax credit of 1.5 cents per kilowatthour established by the U.S. Congress as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT).(4)

Major U.S. wind energy development to date has been in areas such as the Altamont and Tehachapi passes in California, which are characterized by favorable wind resources, relatively high-priced long-term power purchase contracts from utilities, and close proximity to existing electricity transmission corridors. In 1994, California had about 16,000 operating wind turbines, which produced approximately 3.5 billion kilowatthours of electricity.(5) As the cost of wind generating equipment declines and performance improves, interest in deploying significant amounts of wind energy elsewhere in the United States is expected to increase.

This chapter provides an overview of wind energy resources in the United States. Proximity of favorable sites to transmission lines and possible constraints on their use in the form of land-use restrictions and environmental exclusions are examined. State-level activity related to wind development initiatives is reviewed, and estimates of the potential usable resources and electric generation capability are presented in terms of land availability for wind development.

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