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Must read: Bush DOE says wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs

By Joe Romm  

"Must read: Bush DOE says wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs"


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The Bush administration has signed off on a stunning new report, “20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply.”

I am working on a big wind article for mid-week, but here are the key conclusions of what is easily the most comprehensive and credible report released on windpower in a decade:

  • Annual installations need to increase by only a factor of three from current levels by 2018.
  • Costs of integrating intermittent wind power into the grid are modest. 20 percent wind can be reliably integrated into the grid for less than 0.5 cents per kWh.
  • No material constraints currently exist. Although demand for copper, fiberglass and other raw materials will increase, achieving 20 percent wind is not limited by the availability of raw materials.
  • This would require 300,000 MW of wind, delivering electricity for about 6 to 8.5 cents per kilowatt hour, unsubsidized (i.e. no federal tax credit) and including the cost of transmission to access existing power lines within 500 miles of wind resource [new nuclear is currently about 15 cents/kwh (see here)].
  • The 20% Wind Scenario could require an incremental investment of as little as $43 billion NPV [net present value] more than the base-case no new Wind Scenario. This would represent less than 0.06 cent (6 one-hundredths of 1 cent) per kilowatt-hour of total generation by 2030, or roughly 50 cents per month per household.


The benefits the country gets for this small incremental investment are staggering:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent in 2030.
  • Reduce natural gas use by 11%;
  • Reduce water consumption associated with electricity generation by 4 trillion gallons by 2030;
  • Increase annual revenues to local communities to more than $1.5 billion by 2030; and
  • Support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S., with an average of more than 150,000 workers directly employed by the wind industry.

That certainly qualifies as a no-brainer. How do we get there? Well, not surprisingly, the Bush administration does not discuss the needed policies, since the three most obvious are

  1. Continuing the production tax credit for wind
  2. A 20% (or higher) renewable electricity standard for utilities.
  3. A cap and trade system that results in a significant price for carbon.

The Administration’s view of these three policies range from disinterest to outright opposition. So this report does highlight the disconnect between the amazing clean energy future within our grasp that even the Bush administration is forced to acknowledge — and the simple and relatively inexpensive government policies that the administration just can’t stomach. It is worth noting that you don’t need all three policies simultaneously. We should have the first two in place now lasting until carbon dioxide is, say, $30 a ton.

Fortunately, the next election will allow us to replace Bush with someone who supports all three of those policies (Hint — it’s not the guy who gave a climate speech today).

Finally, at the DOE press conference today, which I listened to over the phone, Andy Karsner, DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — an incredibly enthusiastic champion of clean tech who, sadly, was appointed far too late in the administration to have an impact — said that the 20% wind penetration could be accomplished with “no technology breakthroughs” for wind power.

And when Karsner was asked about scale of the effort, especially in regard to building power plants far from where people lived, he pointed out the country had already done this once, when it built all those hydropower plants decades ago. At the time, not many people lived near Hoover dam.

For more information

  • The DOE press release is here
  • The American Wind Energy Association release is here
  • A discussion of windpower’s place in the effort to stabilize at 450 ppm CO2 is here.

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33 Responses to Must read: Bush DOE says wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs

  1. Paul K says:

    Bye-bye Bush the delayer meme.

  2. Joe says:

    Paul: Bye-bye Bush. Still, the world’s leading delayer-1000.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    So what incremental improvements can, and should, bring the cost of windpower down? It’s not the topic of this blog, but even though propeller, turbine, tower, and electric transmission are all mature technologies, all can be improved.

    What is the low hanging fruit? What are the best research opportunities?

  4. scruss says:

    Mark, the price of wind turbiens started going up in the last few years, as material costs have increased. We got a lot of low-hanging-fruit in the last decade with better turbine yields.

    And Joe, the US didn’t invent the modern wind industry. There are few, if any, of the US-influenced design of machines still in production. The Danish upwind, three bladed machine has won the day.

    (I’m happily employed in the wind industry, incidentally.)

  5. charlie says:

    Umm, Mr. Romm, I came to this blog after reading your hydrogen book — which I thought was excellent. However, I’ve noted a tendency for you to blow a lot of smoke as well — and you are much better when you are either clearing the smoke or talking about your wedges:

    1. OK, it is easy until 2018 — and then you have to install 16GW a year until 2030 of turbines to meet that goal. What’s the current base — around 10GW of turbines? Hello NIMBY. Hello dead birds. Hello upset neighbors.

    2. The entire political point of this report is you can get 20% WITHOUT the DAMN TAX CREDIT. NOTE: BUSHIES DON’T WANT TO PASS THE TAX CREDIT. Don’t praise them. If you want your windpower make your noise.

    3. OK, Fiberglass might not be a problem, but when you start installing 16GW of turbines a year you might not have the factories ready to build them.

    And just to make it clear — Las Vegas was built for gambling and whores — not cheap water and power. Cheap water and power just made it, well, so bright. Building a new gambling center in North Dakota is an option but a long shot.

  6. Paul K says:

    A lot of people are still hung up on making carbon so expensive we’ll have to go alternative. The better direction is making alternatives less expensive. All the other principles still maintain. The premise is that the switch to alternatives is good economics and can be accomplished through thoughtful regulation.

    Do you know anything about getting the wind from the upper plains to the urban centers east of the Mississippi?

  7. hapa says:

    charlie: every responsible greening plan greatly reduces the number of car miles driven. this will offset late-model turbine bird kills, and how. (the audobon society’s carbon reduction plan also eliminates cats but that is a suspicious thing.)

  8. Finnjor says:

    You have tough guys there in the U.S. to destroy our species. As for it, EU is not so much better, so let´s say goodbye. The last generation, as far I see it.

  9. mauri pelto says:

    Enocuraging indeed, and that is why wind energy has been on such a hot streak. But the Bush plan seems to not emphasize the need to support the development of offshore wind energy, which is stuck at the moment.

  10. Ronald says:

    The article didn’t say that Las Vegas was built because of cheap water and power. It said that water dams such as Hoover we built far from major population centers. Much of the power from Hoover dam had to be transmitted by power lines.

    The problem with dead birds from wind turbines is much less with the wind turbines I’m sure they want to install, which can go to 300 feet tall, than the smaller 25 Kw that would be smaller installations. Actually the number of birds killed by large wind turbines is quite low compared to motor vehicles and buildings.

    I just spent 2 weeks in Northern Germany and all those wind turbines along the coast sure can be considered sight pollution if not comfortable with them. Wind turbines sites in the US need to take into account local wishes. but if farming communities can get used to and even want farmland to be planted fence row to fence row, in those communities a bunch of wind turbines will just look like money.

  11. Eli Rabett says:

    Paul, the issue is not so much making carbon expensive, but putting a floor under the price that reflects externalities so that coal and oil (less possible than thirty years ago) can’t flood the energy market and wipe out carbon free alternatives.

  12. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, when talking about the price of energy, it is important to distinguish new energy (stuff about to be built), existing energy (sunk-cost, still paying off its debt), and paid-off energy (sunk cost, debt paid off). Getting the market price of new renewable energy to be lower than the market price of dirty energy would do nothing to shut down the plants that are currently dumping over 2 ppm CO2 per year into the atmosphere. It is new vs. new that is usually what people are talking about, but that doesn’t address the planetkillers that we have already built.

    The fuel and O&M costs of coal are about 2 cents per kWh. Are you suggesting that we should wait for renewable energy below 2 cents per kWh to put the existing and paid-off plants out of business by bankrupting them?

  13. Earl Killian says:

    Mark Shapiro, I know of one item that is an opportunity for improvement, which is borrowing of an idea from humpback whales: add tubercles to rotor blades. See http://www.whalepower.com/drupal/

  14. Paul K says:

    Eli Rabett,
    I’m not sure what you mean by externalities, don’t know if they can be forced into the price.

    The method favored by Joe for the floor you posit is a cap and trade system for CO2 emissions. This indirect approach is thought to be less regressive and more likely to spur deployment and innovation than a direct tax on carbon. Proponents point to the success of SO2 cap/trade, an imperfect and perhaps misleading analogy.

    I do a semiannual drive across Montana, the Dakotas and Northern Plains from Chicago to Calgary. To me, wind turbines are awesome in their beauty. Unfortunately, many of them don’t spin much of the time. The wind is blowing, but there’s no place for the electricity to go.

  15. dotcommodity says:

    I wonder why so many Bush appointees are coming out now with contrarian views?

    Wind power was not even deemed a source of energy throughout this administration: it did not even warrant a mention on the DOE site. It has been lumped in with “Other Renewables” lo the 8 long years.

    The BushCheney administration infested the bureaucracy with throngs of flatearth christjinistic antiscience moles to enforce their flatearther energy policy. For the last 8 years its been one story after another: close down EPA libraries, distort climate science, etc…

    and now…all of a sudden… dissidents are piping up all over.

    I hope they are sincere, and not just trying to avoid the weeding process of a new Democratic administration…

  16. Paul K says:

    Earl Killian,
    Thanks for bringing up new vs existing vs paid-off energy. It’s a good way to analyze the problem and I hope I’m not the only one who’d like to expand on it.

    Am I suggesting we should wait for existing and paid-off plants to go bankrupt? No, I am saying they will become obsolete.

  17. dotcommodity says:


    you are wrong about “its been a decade since..”:

    at the end of the Clinton/Gore administration there was this assessment:

    Wind could supply 150% of US energy needs:

    wow…..thats veeeeeery interesting!

    When I had bookmarked this page in 2006, it was dated (pre election) 2000….but now it says it was updated 2005….?

    I had distinctly bookmarked it as an example of an old pre Bush era (very different) renewables assessment: it was of interest to me as contrast with the Bush DOE. I had found it on teh google, it was not on the then current DOE site.

    So I went to the new DOE, and boy has the whole thing changed. Now there are entire pages devoted to Wind and Solar and Geothermal, the previously unmentionables ..and these pages were included in 2007 and 2008, looks like this was not the “deathbed conversion” I had percieved, but near enough.

  18. charlie says:

    #Ronald — I wasn’t on the call, but the impression I got from reading reports when the DAS was asked about problems transmitting power from wind power turbines to population centers, he came back by saying Las Vegas was built up by mobsters and we should follow their example.

    And I realize that the number of birds killed by turbines may go down. Or up. Larger point — the 20% windpower thing is a bogus Bushie number. The purpose of this report is to distract you. The DOE report calls for 20,000 square miles of wind turbines and access roads, not to mention new transmission lines. At a certain point, people are going to start objecting to wind turbines at that scale. And again, when you are talking about building as many turbines every year from 2018 to 2030 as currently exist in the US (or Germany) there will be problems.

    And so this report is designed to do two things: make it plausible you can get to 20% withouth a tax credit, and not talk about offshore.

  19. Joe says:

    Dot: your link is not to a “comprehensive and credible report” — nothing like what DOE put out. Obviously, wind could provide all of US electricity, but the report lays out a credible path to get to 20%.

  20. dotcommodity says:


    I didn’t say it was comprehensive, but only that it was acknowledged back then that we could get one and a half times our energy needs met.

    And it was on the DOE sitehead.

  21. Mark Shapiro says:

    Earl Killian – I like the possibility of tubercles; that’s one of many possible aerodynamic improvements.

    Chapter 2 of the DOE wind report is the best review of the state of the art, the challenges, and possible near-term improvements that I’ve seen.

    There is lots of room for improvement, creativity, and whole-system thinking. I’d love to see Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures take on the challenge!

  22. Tom Gray says:

    20,000 square miles sounds a bit low, though I’m not sure what the report says. I usually figure 60 acres/MW or 10 MW per sq-mi. That would mean 30,000 for 300,000 MW. In any event, the notion that that’s a show-stopper seems misguided–the U.S. has about 3 million square miles of land, so we’re talking about 1% of that area (with 95-98% of THAT area, in turn, continuing to be free for farming, grazing, etc.). Space is not a major problem.

    Tom Gray
    American Wind Energy Association

  23. Jay Alt says:

    The report’s release is likely due to the Senate vote for the wind tax credit extension on 4/10. It passed 88-8, (without 3 pres, candidates or L. Dole). So I wonder if you could find how long the technical portion has been completed. Was it perhaps parked on the shelf, waiting for those all-knowing appointees to do something with it?
    I think European countries must have reached similar conclusions years ago, and then adopted the supports and policies to make things happen.

  24. Paul K says:

    Germany’s wind and solar programs are so successful they are building coal plants and warning of disruptions this summer. U.S. wind is doing very well.

  25. Joe says:

    We’ll see how many coal plants the Germans build. Not bloody many, I suspect. Still even one new one is bad.

  26. charlie says:

    Tom: The report calls for 50K square KM of LAND based wind turbines, so I think they are using the same estimations as you. And yes, we’re a big country. But my point about land costs is that as we increase the number of wind farms, the marginal costs of using land will increase as well. Look at cell towers, which use less land — and there are only 1.9 million of them — and the controversy they engender.

    besides, again, this report is a snow job designed to show 1) we don’t need a tax credit for wind; 2) we can avoid the offshore debate and 3) the transmission problems will solve themselves.

    I think we need to solve all 3 of the above point if you want 20% — and I’m willing to call this a green snow job.

  27. Paul K says:

    What is the current tax credit for wind?

    The offshore debate is moot. Opposition by even the most ardent global warming alarmists, the Kennedy’s e.g., puts it off the table.

    Transmission is not a problem. It is a process. And yes, it will not proceed automatically.

  28. Tom Gray says:

    Charlie, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on land being a constraint–I just don’t buy it. I’m with you on transmission, though–that IS a major issue that’s going to have to be resolved, and it’s a hard one that’s going to require a lot of work.

    Paul, the offshore debate is not moot–for one thing, it’s possible to site turbines out of sight of land. Offshore has some definite advantages, but it also is more challenging technically and economically. Even so, its time is coming.

    Tom Gray

  29. Tom Gray says:

    Oh, sorry, should have answered the tax credit question: it’s 2 cents/kWh for electricity generated during the first 10 years of operation of a project.


  30. Paul K says:

    Since transmission is the only thing holding wind back, what is more needed is a tax credit for new transmission.

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Somewhat off-topic, but certainly compatible with and complementing wind:


    entitled “The Latest Biofuel: Sweet Sorghum”

    While a food, most people prefer other substance4s to sweet sorghum. It needs less NPK than corn. The converstion to ethanol is as efficient as sugarcane. Unlike sugarcane, it can be grown almost anywhere in the U.S. and up into Canada.

  32. John Droz, jr says:

    To read a more realistic assessment of the DOE report — from an environmentally concerned physicist — see: “DOE + AWEA = DOA” at download the PDF at >.