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Working to Overcome Barriers to Meeting 20% U.S. Wind Vision

May 1, 2009

Audio with Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson (MP3 3.9 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:04:06

Last year, the Department of Energy released a report detailing how wind energy could produce 20-percent of the nation's electricity by the year 2030. But to reach that goal, a number of different things have to happen. There are currently several challenges to overcome.

According to Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson — the challenges to — and the drivers of — a robust wind future for the country may actually be different on a state-by-state basis. But there is one thing that's common across the nation — transmission. In order to build a logical electricity system in the U.S. based on wind, Parkinson says the country must have a transmission system that can move power all over the country. He says that must be addressed if his state is going to reach its full potential, which according to the Department of Energy is more than seven-thousand megawatts of wind energy each year by 2030.

"We need better transmission so that we can move the great wind power that we have from western Kansas to eastern Kansas where the population base is, but also to move it beyond eastern Kansas, into some other states that don't have a great wind resource. There's only a certain amount of wind that you can integrate into your electricity system, and most utilities believe it's probably around 20-percent. So the most amount of wind we could ever develop in Kansas just for Kansas utilities is probably two-thousand megawatts."

Leaving five-thousand megawatts to sell — and highlighting another challenge — developing a market for that excess power. Once a transmission system is in place, Parkinson says those states producing more wind energy than they can use will need states without a good wind resource to buy wind power from them.

But before the U.S. can even reach that point, Parkinson says more federal action is needed to promote wind energy.

"And we've already seen a bit of action on that. The production tax credit, which is provided to folks that develop wind farms, had been renewed just kind of on an annual basis for the last several years. As part of the recovery act bill that recently became law, the production tax credit's now been extended for three years, which provides some federal stability to the industry."

Parkinson believes the most important federal action would be a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard — requiring every utility to buy a certain amount of power from renewable resources. He says that would lead to an explosion in wind farm development and a greater need for human capital.

Parkinson says the Wind for Schools program — where small turbines provide electricity for entire school districts — is definitely helping address that need. What's more, he says it's leading to greater acceptance of the wind energy concept.

"As you get people in the community and in the schools used to seeing wind power, seeing that it's for real, seeing that it's actually providing energy to their community, it just furthers the acceptance of wind power as a long-term industry. And we believe that it's a long-term industry, not just in terms of producing power, but in terms of producing jobs, as we hope to eventually attract manufacturers to our state as well."

The downturn in natural gas prices, according to Parkinson, hasn't been the barrier some might have expected. He says there are a couple of reasons. One, there's not a strong belief prices will stay low. And second, Parkinson says it turns out low prices actually help the wind industry.

"A lot of people are pairing natural gas plants with wind energy. Because natural gas plants can be turned on and off so easily, much easier than say shutting down a nuclear power plant or shutting down a coal fire plant, a lot of developments are starting to surface where there's a small natural gas plant connected with wind power. You use the wind power when the wind is blowing, and then when the wind isn't blowing, you flip the switch on the natural gas plant. And I think you're going to see more of those combinations in the future."

Kansas is third in wind energy potential behind North Dakota and Texas. The state's seven-thousand megawatt potential translates to more than a-thousand-billion kilowatt-hours. That's roughly a tenth of the more than 10-thousand-billion kilowatt-hours it's estimated the U.S. can generate from wind each year, which is more than twice the electricity generated in the U.S. today.

Audio provided by Stacia Cudd, National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service.

—Julie Jones