July 1, 2013

Guest Post: Wind Energy: A Change in Public Opinion

We periodically post the work of Anderson students and alumni. Kevin Sheward recently graduated from Anderson University with a BA in Political Science and a minor in non-profit leadership. He plans to pursue his MBA from Anderson University this fall. His professional interests include urban development and disaster recovery, with a personal interest in alternative energy.

Wind Energy: A Change in Public Opinion

Kevin Sheward

The United States has been a leader in many different areas of technology in innovation during its history, but one area that it has been a follower is in alternative energy incorporation. As a nation we have been successful thus far relying on fossil fuels to power our nation, but times are changing and as the environmental and health impacts of burning these fossil fuels are becoming better understood, there is a growing sense that we need to find cleaner and more advanced ways of powering our growing energy needs. Wind energy is one of the promising options that could be the replacement for fossil fuels in the future, but unfortunately it has faced an uphill battle.

The first wind farm was built in the Netherlands in the 1890’s but it wasn’t until 1980 at Crotched Mountain New Hampshire that the first wind farm was built on U.S. soil. It took the United States almost a century to implement a viable energy option that Europe was proving successful for decades. The reason for this is multi-faceted. Until the oil crises of the 1970s, oil and natural gas were extremely cheap energy options and there was little incentive to explore other energy options. Another reason was that the environmental movement hadn’t really begun until the 1970s and public awareness of the environmental costs of fossil fuels was not yet known.

Since the 1980’s wind energy has been implemented at a modest pace, and now wind turbines are dotted all across the nation. However, our shore lines have been untouched by wind energy, a drastic difference from northern Europe, China and Japan that have a combined 4.45 GW of installed wind energy potential with another 4.72 GW planned. The wind energy sector in the U.S. has struggled to break in to this market because three major factors: public opinion, an ironic lack of red tape, and perceived lack of financial viability.

Public opinion has come out in droves over the last 25 years to battle the construction of wind turbines and the most passionate of fighters have been along the coasts. This kind of bias has even been coined in its own acronym, the “Not in my bad yard” (NIMBY) effect. As public awareness on these turbines has grown, and visual demonstrations have been given to the public on how their views would not be changed much, if at all, public support has been shifting in a more favorable direction.

Another hurdle that the wind energy industry has been facing is a lack of government regulation. Over the last ten years, government officials have not allowed the construction of offshore wind energy projects because there weren’t regulations in place to control their construction and placement. Fortunately, those regulations are now in place and these projects have the green light for construction.

Despite the success of other offshore wind energy projects around the world, American investors have been hesitant to invest in these energy options, because the technology is still developing and there haven’t been any projects done here in the U.S. to prove that they will be successful. Fortunately, that is about to change.

The first offshore wind energy project just received the financial backing it needs to begin construction. The project, which will be located off Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts, is being backed by a large investment from a Japanese bank. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi is making a $2 billion dollar investment in the project, being built by Cape Wind, which will begin construction before the end of 2013. Since the project will begin before the end of 2013 it will also receive a 30% production tax credit and a long term, low interest, loan from the Department of Energy. The offshore wind farm when completed will have 130 wind turbines with an estimated energy production of 468 MW.

This is a tremendous step forward for the wind energy industry. It marks a sign that negative public opinion toward wind turbines is beginning to change and that government policies and incentives are beginning to work in the wind energy market’s favor and hopefully it is a sign of more projects to come.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Gurit Composites / Creative Commons licensed

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