April 21, 2014

Wind turbines are not a sideshow

We need to take renewable energy more seriously.

With an average wind speed of around 12 mph, the city where I live isn’t the windiest place in the country. But on many days — especially during spring and the long, hot summer — a strong, steady flow off the Gulf of Mexico makes Corpus Christi a dependable destination for windsurfers and sailors.

The energy in wind is impressive. Thus, the last half-decade has seen significant development of wind farms in the area, including the 168-turbine Penascal complex, 40 miles south of the city, and 196 turbines at the Papalote Creek installation to the north, which produces enough energy to supply 114,000 homes.

These turbines are among 7,000 in Texas and they contribute to the state’s generating capacity of more than 12,000 megawatts, the most in the nation.

But local wind power hit a snag recently when the city took steps to quash a proposed 175-turbine wind farm on 20,000 acres south of the city, a facility that could supply energy to 100,000 homes.

The city’s growth potential is generally to the south, and the City Council was concerned that a wind farm would have a negative impact on development and property values.

The action implies a failure to appreciate a new reality that applies to the nation and world, as well as to south Texas: If the globe has any chance of decent habitability during the next century or so, we’re going to have to put a much higher priority on renewable energy, especially wind and solar.

In Texas, the attitude toward renewable sources of energy reflects our national attitude: Sure, we should be developing renewables, but they’re largely a sideshow, an afterthought that will never play more than a minor role in the satisfaction of our nation’s energy needs, which require coal, natural gas and oil.

We need to take renewable energy more seriously.

A report last September from the U.S. Department of Energy that argues convincingly that wind power, with rising efficiencies and decreasing costs, is America’s best alternative for “low-cost, zero carbon, zero pollution renewable energy.”

The report points out that the generating capacity of American wind installations currently online is equivalent to 60 large nuclear reactors. The potential capacity is 140 quads, about 10 times the electricity the U.S. currently uses.

The biggest obstacle to saving the earth’s climate might be philosophical rather than economic. Overcoming this obstacle requires the acceptance of limitations on growth and consumption.

The modern world depends on a century’s binge on hydrocarbons, which are both non-renewable and highly destructive to the environment.

Constraining our consumption and growth in ways that permit us to live within our resources will be a real challenge.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. jcrisp@delmar.edu

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