Vestas has invested a billion dollars in the United States building wind turbines in Colorado to capture wind off the Rockies. The company has started manufacturing and will generate 2,500 U.S. Clean Energy Jobs by 2011 at full capacity. While the world market for wind is growing 42 percent each year, the U.S. in not ready for primetime. Last year, installed capacity of just over 25,000 Megawatts is enough for only 7 million homes (less than the population of New York).
In the U.S., we are also waiting for offshore facilities to complement what Vestas is doing in the mountains. Last week, a long-awaited project in Nantucket called Cape Wind began negotiations with National Grid to deliver power.
According to the DOE, producing energy from turbines in shallow seas off American Coasts costs bout 50 percent more than land-based wind energy. It is a challenge to distribute the electricity via the existing grid. How, then, to motivate investment in a recession? JOBS.
"There is a multiplier effect in terms of jobs," says Jon Chase, recently installed as Washington Government Affairs Director for Vestas. "People don't realize there are 1,000's of parts in a wind turbine." In Denmark, where Vestas has been operational for years, the firm recently has added thousands of people to its payroll.
Wind will keep growing steadily as a renewable energy source because of state renewable energy requirements and federal tax incentives. Chase says America must create a large enough market for wind to push manufacturing here. "Now is the time to commit," he added. "The government funding levels in the early years is just a start. We are in Washington trying to strengthen these (programs)."
To get to new production levels, wind power companies like Vestas want a Federal Renewable Energy Standard (RES), and Chase says a national RES will supply the Green Jobs President Obama is seeking. Both the House and Senate versions of the companion Energy bills will offer an RES. Until then, wind companies are banking on a Production Tax Credit to invest in America.
T. Boone Pickens, the oil czar, is calling for wind power to reduce dependence on foreign oil. He has paid lobbying firms and brought a populist campaign to the issue. "The U.S. has the best wind market in the world," according to Vestas' Chase. Wind should be attractive to companies and to power grid utilities.
In Denmark, wind produces anywhere from 15-20 percent of the energy to meet demand during non-peak hours, often late at night. Denmark began its wind investment over 30 years ago. According to the Danish Wind Industry Association, by 2020, the country hopes to produce about half of its electricity from wind power.
The Danes just announced a new Horns Rev 2, the world's largest offshore wind farm in time for today's grand opening of the COP15 global climate change conference. In fact, the largest wind turbine blade in the world is on proud display. It measures over 200 feet!
In the U.S., carbon pollution is reflected in the price of power. Wind will help drive costs down here. And that is not just blowing in the wind.