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Report Identifies Growth Opportunities for Wind Energy

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Regional environmental groups have released a report highlighting a potential for growth in wind energy.

The report titled “Wind Energy for a Cleaner America II” takes a look at development of wind energy across the country over the past five years and predicts potential growth for the next five years. Since 2007, the nation’s wind capacity has quadrupled, helping the U.S. avoid nearly 85 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution in 2012 alone. Ben Hellerstein is a field associate for Environment Massachusetts, one of the organizations that released the report. He says if current trends continue, the commonwealth, which ranks 34th nationally in wind energy production, could increase its output tenfold by 2018.

“We are certainly a leader when it comes to solar power and energy efficiency, but we just don’t have that much wind energy capacity installed so far,” Hellerstein said. “The reason for that is because we have not been able to take advantage of off-shore wind development which is where our greatest wind resource as a state is located.”

The $2.6 billion Cape Wind project has been in the works since 2001, held up by regulations and a series of lawsuits. It would be sited off Cape Cod, making it the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Meanwhile, New York ranks 14th in wind production, New Hampshire is No. 30 and Vermont is 33rd. Connecticut joins 10 other states with no wind production. In September, Connecticut’s legislature continued a moratorium on commercial wind projects put in place in 2011. Hellerstein says federal programs that provide tax credits to wind energy developers have aided in the recent uptick, but the uncertainty of the futures of those programs is also a deterrent.

“These programs are set to expire at the end of this year and it’s not clear right now if Congress is actually going to decide to extend the programs,” he explained. “So we know that for anybody looking to invest in wind energy, these programs are absolutely essential.”

Hellerstein says supplementing wind energy for traditional fossil fuels also has health benefits.

"Things like nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides cause respiratory damage and disease,” Hellerstein said. “As well as particulate matter that can exasperate respiratory conditions.”

Localized moratoria in Massachusetts and across the country have been put in place over concerns including potential health risks for people who live near wind turbines. Virginia Irvine is the President of WindWise Massachusetts, a statewide advocacy group that warns people of what it sees as turbines’ negative impact. She says loss of sleep due to noise generated from turbines is the biggest issue.

“We are ranked third in population density,” Irvine said. “So you have the problem in Massachusetts that turbines are shoehorned into residential areas.”

“We need to make sure that wind turbines are not located too close to anybody’s home and that they’re not in the way of migratory bird populations or anything like that,” said Hellerstein.

Irvine says Wind Wise does not take a stance on Cape Wind, but says noise from turbines in the ocean can still travel to shore. The report also says wind energy produced in 2012 displaces nearly 38 billion gallons of water used for cooling at power plants producing the same amount of energy. Irvine says turbines built on mountaintops, such as the Hoosac Wind project in the Berkshires and others in Vermont, disrupt the land design through blasting and construction. She says this upsets a region’s rainfall collection.

“The natural flow to streams has been reduced which is producing drought conditions which will eventually kill the vegetation,” Irvine said. “When there are big rain events then you get the extreme, which is flooding.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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