We have a LONG way to go to offset our insane consumption of carbon-based energy (this included ethanol by the way!), but at least the high energy prices are finally encouraging development of alternative energy sources like large-scale wind farms. Here's an excerpt of the report I was reading (courtesy of Technology News Daily):
Good news, but...
New developments in 2007 have seen the USA continuing to lead as the biggest annual market with 5.2 GW of new installations, followed by Spain and China, which added 3.5 GW and 3.4 GW to their total capacity respectively.The North American market experienced the strongest growth with a spectacular 5.2 GW of new installations in the USA alone in 2007, more than double the 2006 figure. The US total wind power generating capacity was expanded by 45% in a single calendar year, injecting an investment of over 9 bn US$ or 6 bn EUR into the nation’s economy. The new wind projects account for about 30% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally in 2007 and will power the equivalent of 1.5 million American households annually. With the total installed capacity in the US now standing at 16.8 GW, it can be expected that the US will overtake Germany as the largest market for wind energy by the end of 2009, provided that growth continues at the current rate.
Now, let me get to the complaints I have with our screwed up tax system in the United States, specifically in regards to tax credits for windmills, tax credit for wind power, etc., especially the disparity between what corporations can get [TONS!] (in tax incentives, abatements, credits, you name it!) vs. what the average homeowner can get [ESSENTIALLY ZERO]! In America, where the government is controlled by corporate special interests and lobbyists, all of the "tax relief" (as GW likes to call it) with regards to alternative energy goes to the existing predominately carbon-based Energy companies (that run the government these days). Sounds a bit messed up? Darn right! Especially while these large energy companies are raking in record profits!
Here's how completely messed up this alternative energy strategy is in America: you and I the taxpayers give our money to the Federal, State, and Local Governments, which in turn give the money to big energy companies in the form of dollar-for-dollar tax credits (for "investments" in wind power, solar power, etc)... those companies get to essentially build (at no cost to them) large wind-farms, solar power generation facilities, and the like,... and then the same companies that got the massive tax breaks get to sell the power generated by the capital you paid for (with tax credits) back to you perpetually. What a deal!! (not for us, the American public though!) Our deal is a simple one: we get screwed forever under this type of plan. And, this plan is not good for the health of our economy - I'll explain more in a bit.
But, this is the ONLY power-delivery model that the big corporations and government will support. They will not offer YOU the tax-credits to put power on your home, decentralizing the power-generation system in this country (which, by the way would also enhance our National security - but, sorry, big business doesn't want that if it interferes with their profits!). Compare this to Germany where pretty much anyone can reap the rewards of alternative energy tax incentives.
Fact is, big energy is scared to death of there being any REAL alternative to the existing model where you, the consumer, pay them over and over to fill up your tank, power up your appliances, and so on, forever. These companies and their lobbying powers have convinced our government that moving away from this energy-delivery model will "hurt our economy" or something (well, it will hurt their own profits if they don't adapt! And, that's what matters to them.) And, the government fears not being able to TAX YOUR POWER you generate (since, we have sales tax, excise tax, and taxes upon taxes on energy consumption now that the government "needs" for building roads, and more often, just wasting!) So, couple the fears the government has of potential lost taxes from the consumer (the whole time preaching "tax relief for individuals"), with the fear power companies have of losing their god-given "right" to collect revenue eternally for selling us power, and you have a formula that spells one thing: NO CHANGE WILL EVER OCCUR!
Here's the thing about this mentality: it's just plain ignorant (aside from the reality that "greed is good" to these folks).
Doing it right: decentralized power generation
The fact is, a decentralized power-generation model where we leverage alternative energy to push power-generation to the point of consumption (the home, or businesses) via solar power or wind energy, reduces the reliance on "the grid", and creates a much more scalable, reliable, power system overall. In theory, it can be more efficient too, as line-loss is reduced, and there should be a corresponding push for higher-efficiency appliances, lighting, heating, and cooling to make the most of locally generated power.
JOBS! Yes, JOB CREATION, JOB GROWTH, and a whole new manufacturing and service industry will arise from pushing power generation out to the homes and business locations. Who do you think is going to install and maintain all those windmills and solar systems and battery-backup systems and power-interconnects, etc.?? Yes, a veritable army of workers will be busy getting this country converted over to power-generation from sun and wind sources. And, with that income comes income tax, and likely sales-tax on the services (well, at least is States like Ohio that will ultimately try to collect sales tax on anything!).
Now, how about the economic impact? Simply put: HUGE! Our ECONOMY will boom if we incent ALL consumers to install windmills and solar panels. Aside from the job creation I mentioned already, our reliance on foreign energy can plummet. This current sucking sound (our money going to the Middle East constantly) is a huge burden on the economy, and a giant outflow of cash! Trade defects could be positively impacted in a huge way as we kept that cash "internal" to the United States and used it to build energy independence. Perhaps if we are really smart about things, we'll also learn to build and export some of the physical products needed for solar/wind (to other countries - and actually help our trade balance out), though I suspect the temptation to outsource manufacturing of all the physical goods to China will be overwhelming. Either way, we'll have our "service sector" jobs installing and servicing this stuff forever!
Also, if we use existing roof-tops for solar arrays, we won't be wasting any more land just to get the area needed for solar farms. A minor issue perhaps, or maybe not? Just multiply out the square-footage required for enough solar cells to power one house, and multiply by the number of households in America to calculate required acreage for an equivalent solar farm: the number is huge!
A comparison... this same decentralized strategy model is used regularly in computing environments to disperse processing and storage across multiple physical machines and locations in order to minimize single-point-of-failure prospects while increasing resource utilization (especially the processing power of desktop computers which tend to be underutilized / idle much of the time).
It can work, and it would work, if our government would take some serious action to encourage wide-scale distributed alternative energy (through personal tax incentives). The curent $150 BILLION idiotic short-term "economic stimulus package" currently nearing reality in Congress will do NOTHING for our economy long-term.
You want long-term economic security? Put that $150 BILLION into PERSONAL TAX-CREDITS (DOLLAR-FOR-DOLLAR) for implementing alternative energy (wind/solar) at the home and small-business level - and, spread this out over a few years so workers and windmill/solar producers can keep up with demand. The money will stay in the country, unlike the current "tax rebate checks", which might as well be 90% signed over to China as soon as consumers receive them!