North Dakota has the greatest wind energy potential in the nation. So why isn’t the state taking advantage?
In northern Germany, “moin moin” is the short way of saying hello. Turn around and say goodbye, and “tschüss” is the word.
I learned the words while working for the world’s largest and longest-running wind energy industry trade show last month. While there, I couldn’t help wondering why we in the U.S. have been so willing to forego moin for tschüss when it comes to wind.
HUSUM WindEnergy is held every two years in Husum, Germany, a town of about 20,000 on the North Sea in the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein. It more than doubles the town’s population with 23,000 visitors and hundreds of exhibitors, including the biggest global names in wind.
As I flew into Hamburg, I noticed how much the mostly flat Schleswig-Hostein is like my home in the Red River Valley.
Also like home, the wind blows there, a lot. There was one striking difference, however. In Schleswig-Holstein, wind turbines are everywhere. The German state is a leader in wind energy development.
There are thousands of turbines in Schleswig-Holstein. According to Prime Minister Peter Harry Carsten, 40 percent of the state’s electricity comes from wind.
Speaking at “The New Energy Economy,” a forum hosted by the Global Wind Energy Council during HUSUM, Carsten said wind has created about 7,000 jobs and annually generates 6 million Euros in tax revenue.
The forum also featured regional case studies from China, Denmark and France. In each, wind development has created lots of jobs, propped up local and regional economies and generated substantial revenues.
The same is beginning to happen here. In Sweetwater, Texas, a town of 12,000, more than 1,124 people work in wind. Mayor Greg Wortham said that represents 20 percent of jobs created since 2003, and the regional economic impact is more than $400 million. That’s big money for any rural community.
I thought about that potential during my return to Fargo. What I didn’t see out the airplane window highlighted the difference between Germany and the U.S. Flying into Minneapolis and then Fargo, I saw one turbine. One.
Wind generation in North Dakota was 1.8 percent of state generation. This, despite the fact that North Dakota has the greatest wind potential in the nation, has way more potential than Schleswig-Holstein and is often called the “Saudi Arabia of Wind.”
Schleswig-Holstein, 40 percent; North Dakota, 1.8. Any way you wield the comparative knife, 20 times more makes for one heck of a big slice.
There are reasons for this deficiency. The transmission infrastructure isn’t up to moving wind-generated electricity, and the cost of building more is huge. Other national challenges include a limited supply of towers, turbines and other equipment; the uncertainty of the federal wind production tax credit; and opposition to what some consider unattractive turbines.
As we grapple with those challenges, the wind keeps blowing, its benefits still more or less invisible.
The good news is more states are adopting Renewable Portfolio Standards, many are working to address challenges that hinder development, Congress just renewed the PTC, people are listening as T. Boone Pickens promotes wind around the country, and wind is part of both presidential candidates’ energy plans.
The answer to our national energy crisis is not entirely blowin’ in the wind, but it can certainly be a bigger part of the solution. We can and should be more like Schleswig-Holstein.
Whatever it takes, let’s say moin moin to more wind.