For years, skeptics have scoffed about the future of wind energy, presuming to silence enthusiasts with the line, “Well, what do you do when the wind doesn’t blow?”
As it turns out, there is a modern answer for that question. It’s called a power pool.
This month, the Southwest Power Pool became the first regional transmission organization in North America to supply more than 50 percent of its demand from wind turbines, hitting 52.1 percent of its load at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 12.
The power pool stretches from Montana to Texas. True, the wind does not blow every day in every state, but it’s always blowing somewhere – and generating electricity.
The power pool operates 60,000 miles of power grid across 14 states, including Nebraska. The Lincoln Electric System, the Nebraska Public Power District and the Omaha Public Power District joined in 2008.
Last year, wind power became the nation’s top source of renewable energy, surpassing hydropower, according to Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.
It’s one of the paradoxes of today’s political climate that wind energy, which often is promoted by liberal icons, is flourishing in red states. Texas, in fact, is the undisputed king when it comes to wind energy. Texas has attracted an estimated $38 billion in wind energy investment, with three times more wind generating capacity than any other state.
Kansas and Iowa produce more than 30 percent of their electricity from wind. Oklahoma generates more than 20 percent.
The Lincoln Electric System took advantage of the wind energy capacity in Kansas and Oklahoma by signing contracts that it says will save $420 million over the next 25 years, based on the projected price of energy in the power pool.
Kiernan, admittedly a salesman for wind energy, puts it this way: “Wind energy isn’t a red or blue industry; it’s red, white and blue.”
Nebraska conservatives don’t seem to have read the memo. Despite Nebraska’s wind energy potential, it ranks only 17th in its capacity to generate electricity from wind.
It’s discouraging that Lancaster County officials last year enacted dubious noise limits that effectively prevent wind turbines from operating locally.
Even wind energy pioneers are surprised with the ability of the power pool to harness the wind. “Ten years ago, we thought hitting even 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more would pose serious threats to reliability,” the pool said in a written statement.
Now the organization says that it can reliably manage greater than 50 percent. And, vice president of operations Bruce Rew added, that level of wind energy is “not even our ceiling.”