Wind and water

Our view : Suburban D.C. agency shows how to plug into wind power

May 29, 2008

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that wind power could produce as much as 20 percent of the nation's electrical power by 2030. One model for getting there can be found here in Maryland where the agency that provides water and sewage treatment for Montgomery and Prince George's counties is buying thousands of megawatts of electricity from a wind farm.

Under the arrangement, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has agreed to pay a fixed amount for 85 percent of the power generated by the southwestern Pennsylvania producer over the next 10 years. Not only is that good for the environment, but WSSC officials estimate that the relatively low price they're paying for power will save their customers about $20 million.

It also makes the commission a significant direct purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. And it's exactly the sort of thing that ought to be promoted for Maryland, a state with a surplus of air pollution and a potential deficit of power. By buying less from traditional coal-fired power plants, the WSSC project has taken the equivalent of the exhaust of 100,000 cars off the road.

Wind power isn't the solution for all our energy problems. Proposed projects in Western Maryland were sharply criticized for their potential adverse effects on wildlife, their noise and their aesthetic impact on scenic areas. But just because wind turbines aren't suited for some locations doesn't mean they're not right for any - just as some communities embrace development while others do not. And a wind farm doesn't have to be in one's backyard for a consumer to take advantage.

What's exciting is the win-win nature of the arrangement. Private companies with sizable power needs, including retailers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods Market, have begun investing in wind power, too. They may have been attracted by the green image, but they were likely sold on the chance to turn a profit.

Perhaps the new owners of Sparrows Point might be able to offset the steel plant's carbon footprint by buying power in a similar fashion. Large, civic-minded employers such as the Johns Hopkins University would be a natural client, too. Wind accounts for a tiny fraction of the nation's power supply today, but as the WSSC effort has demonstrated, it can be a practical and cost-effective alternative.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.