Most reasonable people would agree that we have an energy problem, if not a full-blown crisis in this country. Yet our elected leaders seem, with few exceptions, to be afraid to actually have a serious and honest discussion of the issue. Instead of developing a workable and sustainable energy policy that will allow our economy to flourish and our standard of living to remain as high as it is today, we look for easy solutions. It’s as if destroying the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in search of oil that, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, will lower the price at the pump by about two cents a gallon in 20 years, or eliminating the federal gasoline tax for the summer is the answer.
A lot of hot air comes out of Washington about the need to develop cleaner technologies that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources of energy. It’s hard to take such rhetoric seriously when nothing is being done to prevent the expiration of tax credits for development and production of renewable energy sources–wind and solar. In the most recent opportunity to adopt a tax policy that helps subsidize the development of those new cleaner technologies on June 10, a vote, largely along party lines, prevented a bill that had already been passed by the House from being considered.
The primary sticking point is that under Congress’s fiscally responsible “pay-as-you-go” rules, those credits, totaling about $6 billion a year, would have to be offset by savings elsewhere, which in this bill called for reducing the tax credits given to the oil industry. Considering that ExxonMobil had a profit of more than $40 billion last year, not to mention the other petroleum giants, you have to wonder just why they need the tax break.
This lack of support for alternative energy isn’t anything new in Washington, and it’s not the first time that such tax credits have been allowed to expire. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), during previous periods when the wind energy production credit has lapsed–in 1999, 2001, and 2003–the number of new wind power installations has dropped by as much as 93% the following year.
Luckily, even though Congress and the current Administration don’t appear willing to make a commitment to developing alternative and sustainable sources of comparatively cheap, yes, that’s right, cheap energy, winds of change are blowing.
Where the Winds Are Blowing
Currently only about 1% of the nation’s electricity needs are being met by wind power–that amount is higher in some of the windier parts of the country. Texas currently leads the pack in terms of wind power with some 3% of its electrical needs coming from wind turbines; it’s also the site of four of the nation’s five largest wind farms.
But as they say, everything’s bigger in Texas and legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens has announced plans to build the world’s largest wind farm in Pampa, a town of about 18,000 in the Texas panhandle. He’s been heavily involved in developing natural gas as an alternative fuel for automobiles and his company, Clean Energy, is currently the largest supplier of vehicular natural gas in North America. Now he’s turning his attention to renewable energy.
He’s planning to invest some $2 billion in the initial phase of a project that will ultimately cost five times that amount. His company, Mesa Power, has already placed an initial order with GE to provide 600 turbines for the site.