Wind power and the future of alternative energy are topics rising to the surface of public debate in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Headlines this week of Google’s $38.8 million investment in North Dakota wind farms, plus the approval of the nation’s first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod last week have appeared alongside reports and images of an epic oil spill in the gulf. As the oil slick spreads and the environmental and economic damage mounts, wind power advocates are seizing the moment.
Wind power turning point
Wind power may have reached a turning point with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s approval of the Cape Cod wind farm. Cape Wind Associates went through nine years of Federal review. Discovery News reports that Cape Wind was bitterly opposed by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which filed a lawsuit to block the project after Salazar’s approval. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Martha’s Vineyard also plans to sue along with many other environmental groups. But when Salazar announced his decision in Boston on April 28, he said “We are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future. This is the final decision of the United States of America. We are very confident we will be able to uphold the decision against legal challenges.”
Wind power cost
Wind power has been slow to develop because there are no get-rich-quick schemes in alternative energy. But energy-daily.com reports that wind power costs are dropping with increased output and improved technology. Still, wind power cost makes new projects difficult to finance, and they take years of debt management to generate profits. However, a report on smartmoney.com mentions that last year 10,000 megawatts of new wind power were installed in the U.S. – the largest installation year ever, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Wind energy still provides just 1.8 percent of all U.S. power, but provided 39 percent of new generating capacity in 2009.
Wind power companies
Wind power is opposed by environmentalists because it can kill birds and spoil views. Politicians oppose wind power because the biggest, most advanced wind power companies are based in foreign countries. The top three wind power companies, based on megawatts installed in 2009, are Vestas of Denmark, Enercon of Germany and Gamesa of Spain. GE Energy, based in New York, is the fourth-largest.
Shift to offshore wind power
Wind power has progressed in fits and starts on land, but the Cape Wind project signals a new focus on installing wind turbines offshore. In the smartmoney.com report, Nicholas Heymann, the director of global industrial infrastructure research at Sterne, Agee & Leach, said offshore projects cost more to build, but wind is more consistent at sea than on land. Offshore wind turbines are geared differently to generate more power than land-based turbines, and offshore wind farms, with no geography or urban development to contend with, can be larger. The Cape Wind project will have 130 turbines producing 420 megawatts of power.
Wind power stock
Wind power stock rises with the price of oil. As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico worsens, oil prices are climbing. Zacks.com reports that during the recession, oil prices were low and alternative energy stock prices were in a trough but are recovering. Google’s wind power stock investment in North Dakota and the Federal approval of the Cape Wind project juxtaposed with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 lead wind power advocates believe their day has finally come.