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Industry: Wind Energy
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  Renowned oil investor T. Boone Pickens has shifted his attention to a renewable energy resource

With oil prices still in triple-digit territory and many renewable resources (including wind power) still in their infancy, power generation isn’t coming cheap these days.

Those Americans willing to shell out $5,000 for a 300-pound, home-based wind turbine shouldn’t expect much return on their investment anytime soon. Because they’re so small, they don’t generate that much electricity. But if energy prices continue to rise (as seems likely), it could pay off over time, as technology advances.

The trend is catching on, too. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has thrown his weight behind home and office-based wind power with a bold proposal to spread turbines across the city. Other cities like Boston (with 20 turbines at Logan Airport) and San Francisco have also shown their support for the efforts and San Francisco’s government is pondering whether to offer wind power incentives. In addition, Pickens has placed a $2 billion order with General Electric (NYSE: GE) for 667 of its wind turbines that can produce 1.5 megawatts of electricity - part of the $10 billion “Pickens Plan” for alternative energy and for wind power to make up 20% of U.S. energy needs. Eventually, that will rise to 1,000 megawatts - enough to power 300,000 homes. And Pickens plans to pump another $6 billion into GE’s coffers for turbines that will power the 4,000-megawatt Pampa Project.

As he recently stated: “We’re paying $700 billion a year for foreign oil. It’s breaking us as a nation, and I want to elevate that question to the presidential debate, to make it the No. 1 issue of the campaign this year.” He continues… “Neither presidential candidate is talking about solving the oil problem. So we’re going to make ‘em talk about it. Where do you think we’re going to be in 10 years when our economy is busted and we’re importing 80% of our oil?” He’s got a point. Previous presidents have boldly declared their intent to free America from the shackles of foreign oil, but it’s never happened. Pickens believes that wind power can compete favorably with electricity produced from natural gas.

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  Demand for renewable energy

Demand for renewable energy

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  Continued Government Support Strengthens Wind Industry

It is evident that wind power is a top priority for the Obama administration. Since the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act $118 million have been announced to support the wind industry. In April of 2009, through the Department of Energy (DOE), $93 million was allocated to support further development of wind energy in the U.S.

-$45 million will be used for wind turbine drive-train R&D and testing. This will expand the capabilities of current U.S. facilities to eliminate the need to perform testing outside of the U.S.

-$14 million for technology development for the private sector. It will be used primarily to improve materials used for turbine blades and towers, as well as to improve techniques for turbine manufacturing.

-$24 million for the development of consortia between universities and companies to focus on wind energy improvements. This should allow universities to establish research and development programs to improve wind energy technology and manufacturing methods.

-$10 million will be invested in the National Wind Technology Center to enable the center to support the industry by testing turbine systems for better performance and reliability.[1]

Additionally, in May of 2009 the DOE gave $25 million to the Massachusetts Wind Technology Testing Center, so that the new center can test commercial-sized turbine blades in an effort to reduce cost and contribute to the creation of next generation wind turbine blades. Besides the testing center, companies in Massachusetts are also feeling the generosity of the Obama industry. Selected Massachusetts-based companies will receive approximately $1 million in additional funding under a competitive funding opportunity focused on market and deployment challenges identified in the DOE's report from 2008. [2]

Almost halfway through 2009 we are seeing campaign promises backed up with action and finances. These steps will allow wind energy to become more cost competitive and increase the ability to meet energy demands through domestic resources. The administration's commitment to the wind industry continues to grow and take shape and with oil prices on the rise again (over $75 per barrel) we should continue to see strong support for the industry.

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  Government Support Isn't Going Away This Time

Back in the oil crisis of the 70's tax credits and government support came, renewable energy grew, government support left, renewable energy died. That won't happen this time. Now, the stimulus behind support for wind energy isn't high oil prices, it's concern over global warming. Global warming isn't going away anytime soon, and so government support will remain.

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  Alternative Energy Source is Boosted by General Electric

In addition to providing alternative energy sources like wind turbines, GE is also a major player in boosting America’s wind power capabilities. The company will invest in 76 wind farms, which should pump out more than 4,000 megawatts of power.

Its GE Financial Services unit also recently announced that it will splash out $100 million on three wind farms in upstate New York. The farms are due to be completed during the fourth quarter and will take the state’s wind-producing capacity to 47% and generate enough power (330 megawatts) for 110,000 homes.

But in terms of home and office-based wind power generation, it’s a movement that is steadily gathering support - support that could grow further as technology improves and prices come down. Having a big dog like Pickens on board can only help.

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  Gale-Force Growth

2008 was a banner year for the wind power industry. Previous installation records were smashed, with over 8,500 megawatts (MW) of new generating power installed in the U.S. alone. That’s enough to light over two million homes.

In fact, wind power installations represented 42% of all the new power generation capacity added in 2008. And the 44 million tons of carbon emissions avoided in the process equates to taking seven million cars and trucks off the roads.

As a result of the current recession, wind energy installation for 2009 will be somewhat muted compared to last year – about 5,000 MW expected to be installed. But despite the downturn, the industry is still in expansion mode.

And for the U.S., that bodes well, since a lot of the components are engineered and “made in the USA” – components that now make up about 50% of the average system, up from 30% in 2005.

And like any other burgeoning sector, when business is booming, companies expand and hire people. For example…

  • In just the past two years, wind turbine, tower and component manufacturers added or expanded 70 facilities, 55 of them in 2008 alone.
  • Today, 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry – a 70% increase from just one year ago.
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  Improvements in the Environmental Impact of Windfarms

Most people can agree that wind farms are calm, pleasant, and relaxing - especially compared to say a coal plant. Aside from that, they take up less land area than most solar farms, leaving the land to be used for other purposes. Lastly, slower moving blades and towers made less attractive to roost in are reducing the potential environmental impact on foul.

Don't believe all the buzz around North New York State complaints or birds getting tangled in blades. Use your head, do your homework, and see for yourself. Windfarms are a no brainer on this front.

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