Tilting toward windmills

Power source: The notion of cleaner energy fuels interest among mid-Atlantic states.

April 04, 2001

THERE'S a fresh promise of increased, cleaner energy supplies blowing in the wind.

Windmills are becoming an increasingly attractive source of power for the nation, with large-scale wind farm projects sprouting up in 18 states.

Maryland could soon join that list.

Five mid-Atlantic states are discussing a joint survey of sites that could sustain clusters of huge spinning wind turbines to generate electric power.

Wind farms are being built in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Open areas on the coast or in hilly regions can provide the sustained, strong currents needed to turn the large turbines.

These heavy 20-story towers, with 100-foot fiberglass blades that are adjusted for pitch and direction by computerized sensors, can each generate enough power for several hundred homes.

Improved technology has lowered wind turbine costs close to that of fossil-fuel generators. Turbines can be built quickly. The fuel is "free" and renewable, although there's a reliability problem due to variations of weather.

The main attraction of wind power is that it is clean energy, producing no smog or acid rain or global-warming greenhouse gases emitted by oil, coal and gas power plants.

But wind farms require a lot of land, and the huge unobstructed structures are often seen as eyesores. Migrating birds have been killed by the big propellers.

Deregulation has spurred consumer demand for electricity suppliers using "green" energy sources such as wind. Tax credits, which expire this year, have encouraged development, even by the giant energy companies. A 300-megawatt spread, the world's largest, is to be built this year in the Pacific Northwest.

Wind power makes up less than 1 percent of the nation's energy supply. It is no panacea for power shortages.

But wind power is no longer an quixotic fantasy. It can be a realistic, nonpolluting factor in the mix of U.S. energy resources.

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