by Karen Conover
There is no better time than Earth Day to focus on one environmental problem
that threatens the whole Earth: global warming.
Worldwide, the United States is the biggest single contributor to global
warming, producing about 22 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. And
one of the largest single sources of U.S. global warming pollution comes
from electric utilities, which produce about 33 percent of its total carbon
dioxide emissions, or about 7 percent of the world's total.
Under the Kyoto climate change treaty, the United States faces the formidable
task of reducing these emissions by a 2010 deadline. Wind power, if aggressively
utilized, could help the electric utility sector cut its share of global
warming pollution and move the United States forward with its reduction
goals, while producing new high-tech jobs.
Wind power is the fastest growing energy source in the world. Unlike fossil
fuels, which contribute enormously to smog, acid rain and hazardous mercury
fallout, wind power produces no harmful emissions of any kind. In addition,
it is safer and cheaper than nuclear power and does not carry any hidden,
long-term costs such as waste storage or environmental cleanup expenses.
Such costs, associated with most other forms of energy, are not a problem
in the short-term, but they can and will exact a toll on economic growth
and public health in the future.
Wind power offers other economic benefits for the United States as well,
including greater fuel diversity, less dependence on fossil fuels such
as coal and thousands of new manufacturing jobs. Wind power also is a
steady source of annual income for ranchers or farmers who own the property
where wind farms are built.
Large-scale wind projects, once based almost solely in California, have
sprouted in 18 states, particularly in the Midwest. For example, Enron
Wind Corporation is erecting 250 high-tech wind turbines in Iowa. The
project, when completed, will make the state the third-largest wind energy
producer, just behind California and Minnesota
Meanwhile, wind energy costs have plummeted by 80 percent since the 1980s,
with further declines expected as more projects are completed. The price
of wind power now can run as low as 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour, making
it competitive with most conventional energy sources
The United States is in a prime position to take advantage of all the
opportunities that wind power offers. As states increasingly open their
electricity markets to competition, consumers have the chance to buy "green"
energy. In California, where consumers have been able to choose their
electricity supplier for the last year, most eligible customers who have
switched companies have chosen utilities that offer renewable energy packages.
The federal government can help encourage further growth in the wind power
sector by renewing a wind industry tax credit that expires this June.
There are bills in both the House and Senate that would extend this credit
for five years. Without an extension, wind energy developers could face
serious difficulties in planning and financing new projects.
In addition to extending the wind tax credit, the government can ensure
a bright future for wind energy several other ways. These include requiring
utilities to generate a set amount of electricity from renewable sources,
annual funding for the development of wind technology and a requirement
that federal agencies purchase a minimum percentage of electricity from
Together, these measures could continue to lower the price of wind power
and make it even more competitive with coal and natural gas.
Wind power is a proven way to help curb the harmful effects of global
warming. Given strong support from the federal government and consumers,
wind power could end up blowing away the competition when it comes to
producing clean, competitively priced electricity.
In addition, the use of wind power will result in cleaner air and water
for millions of Americans over the long-term. Economically viable solutions
to climate change do exist. It is important to take advantage of them
now, before future Earth Days grow too warm.
Earth Day is April 22.
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© 1999 Scripps Howard News Service