These are boom times for wind power. T. Boone Pickens, the wildcatter turned oil baron, is building the world's biggest wind farm, in the dry scrub of the Texas Panhandle--a $10 billion bet on wind's future. Twenty-eight states have set ambitious mandates for renewable energy, with wind power shouldering most of the load; many compel electric utilities to get at least 20 percent of their supply from wind and other renewable sources between 2015 and 2025.
Those requirements, along with a generous federal subsidy (20 percent of wind energy's costs), have fostered a turbine-building frenzy. Overall capacity grew by 45 percent last year alone. Several wind-power companies have been snapped up in recent years in a string of multibillion-dollar deals. In May, Jim Cramer talked up wind stocks on Mad Money while assembling a model turbine in the studio.
And why not? Wind power seems to promise zero emissions and an endless supply of cheap power.
Still, it's hard to ignore the parallels to the recent ethanol boom, which was also fueled by mandates and subsidies, and which is now viewed almost universally as a disaster. Wind power is unlikely to cause a global food crisis. But heedless investment in it may provoke blowback of a different sort.