Wind Power Gets Stimulus Windfall

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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The Department of Energy will devote $93 million of stimulus money to wind power technology. Not terribly surprising, considering that wind is all the rage at the moment. To wit: The wind industry now employs more people than the coal industry.

Most of the money will be spent on turbine-related projects (allocation breakdown after the jump). But Cleantech Blog points out that the biggest obstacle facing wind power is actually pipeline problems:

Look at the study “20% Wind Energy by 2030” released in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy to envision the implications of supplying 20% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030 from wind. Oh, there’s plenty of wind to actually supply the electricity, no problem. It’s just that tons of new transmission capacity would be needed.

And there’s the rub. It’s only marginally easier to site and build a new transmission line than a new nuclear powerplant. Transmission lines take many years and sometimes even decades to get done, due to a variety of NIMBY forces and overlapping regulatory regimes at the local, state and federal levels. And, they cost a fortune, easily a million dollars a mile, often considerably more.

So, that “pipeline” from Dakota to Chicago is on the order of a billion dollars of merely enabling infrastructure – and since there are many pinchpoints in the national power grid, that wind power probably couldn’t go much further than the terminating point anyway.

And that NIMBY thing? Still a problem—and one that stimulus money probably won’t solve.

According to the DOE, here’s where the money will go:

  • $45 million for wind turbine drivetrain R&D and testing

    DOE will provide $45 million directed toward enhancing the federal government’s ability to support the wind industry through testing the performance and reliability of current and next generation wind turbine drivetrain systems.

    This investment will deliver dependable and cost effective hardware for utility scale wind turbines with over a 20 year design life. Overall, this project will help to improve the country’s competitiveness in wind energy technology, lower capital costs of wind systems, and maintain a high level of wind energy capacity growth.

  • $14 million for technology development

    To strengthen its support of the wind industry, DOE will make available $14 million to advance technology development in the private sector.  This effort will aim to improve the quality and use of lighter weight, advanced materials for turbine blades, towers, and other components.  Another area of emphasis will be process controls for lamination, blade finishing, trimming, grind, painting, materials handling and inspection.
  • $24 million for wind power research and development

    DOE will provide $24 million for the development of up to three consortia between universities and industry to focus on critical wind energy challenges.  These partnerships will allow universities to establish research and development programs to advance material design, performance measurements, analytical models, and work with the industry to improve power systems operations, maintenance and repair, and component manufacturing.
  • $10 million for National Wind Technology Center

    DOE will invest $10 million at its own National Wind Technology Center in Colorado.  This funding will enhance the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s ability to support the wind industry through testing current and next generation wind turbine drive train systems for better performance and reliability.  Additionally, upgrades to the electrical distribution system will permit cost recovery of the power produced by two new utility-scale wind turbines being installed there for testing and evaluation.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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