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May 052009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Wind energy officials, manufacturers and providers have gathered in the Windy City this week for WINDPOWER 2009, a conference expected to draw some 18,000 people.

Kicking it off on Tuesday, four governors from the Midwest along with the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission appeared at a news conference.

The presence of so much executive clout demonstrated just how important wind has become, rising from a small player on the energy scene merely a few years ago to becoming a leader in the movement for low-carbon, job-creating clean energy solutions.

Wind sounds so wonderful — it’s squeaky clean, straightforward, local. And in Texas, Iowa, Minnesota and handful of other places where it’s already whirling away, it is making a difference. Consumers in these states, and beyond, have expanding access to clean energy programs through their electricity providers because of wind farms.

Wind and environmental advocates say that the U.S. should set a goal of obtaining 25 percent of its energy from clean renewable sources, like wind and solar power, by 2025. Many states have set goals that move in that direction.

But getting from A to B won’t be easy. As wind expands across the U.S. Midwest¬† and on the coasts – all the places where the wind blows strongly – sending that energy to population centers will confront obstacles.

The state governors at the conference are clearing some of the roadblocks to generating and using more wind power. They’re helping retrofit manufacturing plants to make the tools available; visiting European countries to learn how wind works and supporting community colleges as they set up wind-tech classes to train the workforce that will be needed.

But this is the low-hanging fruit, and the governors know that they will need help from Washington. To a person, they emphasized the need for Congressional support to get wind aloft and most critically, to unify the grid system and create the “Smart Grid” needed to carry clean energy efficiently to consumers.

“We need good strong wise policy at the state and national level,” said Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. The others, Jennifer Granholm from Michigan, Chet Culver of Iowa, Ted Strickland of Ohio, agreed.

Without strong federal guidance and money, America could reach and reach and still miss the mark.

And what of this Smart Grid, this massive technological marvel that must be built before we can have affordable clean energy?

The idea is that a digital, modernized electricity delivery system could cut out inefficiencies on “both the supply and demand sides of the meter” as Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the FERC, explained. It would accommodate new sources of power, adjust for inefficiencies and help smooth out demand/supply issues. (Remember both wind and solar follow natural patterns and don’t necessarily peak when everyone in your neighborhood wants to run the dishwasher and the dryer at the same time.)