GBC Business Outlook Conference energy preview: Wind power

Wind power is one of the cleanest ways to generate electricity, according to its advocates. Wind emits no pollution or toxins and is one of Earth’s most abundant resources, making it a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

A recent study by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) found that state-of-the-art wind power plants can generate electricity for less than 5 cents/kWh; a price that is competitive with new coal and gas power plants. Supporters suggest that using modern wind farms in Maryland would also reduce smog, acid rain and greenhouse gas emissions.

Wind turbines are also one of the safest forms of renewable energy. AWEA studies show, to date, no member of the public has ever been injured during the normal operation of a wind turbine, with more than 25 years operating experience and with more than 70,000 machines worldwide.

Popularity with wind power is also increasing, according to the AWEA study. Wind power serves more than 1.6 million U.S. households and has been the fastest growing renewable energy source over the past ten years, with an average annual growth rate of more than 20 percent.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, several areas of Maryland are estimated to have good-to-excellent wind resources. These include the barrier islands along the Atlantic coast, the southeastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and ridge crests west of Cumberland.

Nevertheless, wind power as an alternative energy source has drawn opposition in Maryland from residents in areas where wind farms have been proposed.  Detractors cite environmental concerns and the technology’s perceived inability to produce reliable power in consistent quantities.

Opponents to wind farms have raised concern over the noise produced by the rotor blades, aesthetics of the machinery, and inherent danger to surrounding wildlife.

Another drawback to wind energy is instability. Turbines rely on the wind, which can be intermittent and unpredictable. With the current technology, wind must blow at least 16 mph for power generation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In many cases traditional power plants are still required to generate enough energy to provide constant power to a particular area.

The Greater Baltimore Committee 2008 Business Outlook Conference on October 29 will focus on Maryland’s increasing demands on energy and environmental challenges related to energy generation. Speakers will discuss improving energy efficiency and conservation and provide insight into renewable energy, including green power resources, solar resources, wind power potential and fuel efficient alternatives.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of briefs on energy issues in advance of the GBC’s 2008 Business Outlook Conference on October 29, which will focus on “the future of energy in Maryland.”

Other energy previews:
Wind power
Nuclear energy
Solar power

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