Everyone agrees that renewable energy is the way forward; unfortunately, neither lawmakers nor ordinary folk seem willing to give renewables a chance to get off the ground. Wind power made up almost a third of the new energy production in the US last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association, creating 10,000 green-collar jobs - but even with these changes, it’s predicted that by 2025, less than 5 percent of US energy will come from renewable sources.
That’s partly the fault of the feds, who last year failed to push through national standards for renewables as part of the energy bill. Worse still, national lawmakers have been reluctant to extend tax breaks that make it profitable to build and install wind farms; the incentives are set to expire at the end of this year, and developers say wind-turbine production will suffer unless Congress passes an extension by Memorial Day.
But there are problems at the local level, too. In Nantucket, developers have been struggling since 2001 to build America’s first off-shore wind farm, which would use 130 turbines to provide 420 megawatts of clean, green power. Local residents have dug their heels in, though, saying the “steel forest” would spoil their beach views and damage fishing grounds; thanks to support from Sen. Ted Kennedy they’ve managed to keep the wind-farm proposals on ice so far.
It’s the same story in Maryland: Earlier this month, Gov. Martin O’Malley bowed to public pressure and said he’d block any attempts to build wind turbines on public land. In Wisconsin, too, wind power has run into trouble, with activists campaigning against proposed turbines and lawmakers dropping plans to streamline the approval process for wind farms.
Some state politicians are less short-sighted: California has passed laws requiring energy companies to produce a fifth of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and Illinois and Minnesota both have ambitious renewable-energy regulations on the books. City governments can do their part, too: This month Rock Port, Missouri, became the first entirely wind-powered city in the US.
Appropriately, Chicago - the Windy City - is also doing its bit: Back in 2005, local lawmakers granted residents the right to install private 15-foot turbines on their apartment buildings; now plans are afoot to extend the same right to people out in the suburbs, while blueprints are being drawn up for a two-mile turbine-studded “eco-bridge” looping across the Monroe harbor. It turns out that wind power can work wonders - when lawmakers and locals have the guts to give it a chance.
This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in April 2008.