Winds of Change

I was accused by some readers of being “partisan” in waxing hopeful—and assuming that most E readers shared the same sentiment—about an Obama victory on this page in our pre-election September/October 2008 issue. But how could one not support a candidate that stands head and shoulders above another, not only on environmental issues but on a whole host of others crying out for resolution and not just platitudes?

And I’m going to do it again: There wasn’t a dry eye in my house, and probably not yours either, watching the election returns the evening of November 4 and, later on, the closest thing yet to the “I Have a Dream” speech of 45 years ago. Okay, maybe comparing Barack Obama to Martin Luther King, Jr. is a bit of a stretch, or premature, but people tend to gush when great things happen, and I’m no exception. Gosh, he even pointedly said he wanted to get the White House puppy at a shelter: “a mutt like me.” I hope PETA immediately dispatched a bouquet of (organically grown) roses. And advocates for America’s homeless humans should be pleased, too, as it is a good indicator of a man on an uncalloused mission.

And a wide-ranging one, too, as far as energy and climate are concerned. Though many environmentalists will quibble with his leaving the door open on nuclear energy and his endorsement of corn-based ethanol and “clean coal” strategies in the grab-bag of options, his energy plan is considered and comprehensive, synergistic with rebuilding a healthy economy, creating jobs, promoting public health, moving toward sustainable development and forging a peaceful rather than adversarial foreign policy.

The wind power industry—the focus of our cover story this issue—is certainly on board. Citing a U.S. Department of Energy report released early in 2008 that wind power alone could provide 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030 while creating 500,000 jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 140 million vehicles off the road, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) asserted in a post-election release its eagerness to work with the new administration. “With demand for clean, domestic energy resources on the rise
wind power is the best option to quickly and lastingly address some of our nation’s most pressing challenges,” AWEA said.

Quickly, indeed. According to AWEA’s website, the U.S. wind energy industry installed over 1,300 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity in just the third quarter of 2008, bringing the total installed in 35 U.S. states to over 21,000. AWEA predicts that 7,500 MW will likely have been installed by the end of 2008. The industry shattered all previous records in 2007, installing 5,249 MW and expanding the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 45% in a single calendar year (it also represented an investment of over $9 billion into the economy). And 2008’s growth will now exceed that. AWEA estimates that American wind farms will generate an estimated 49 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind energy in 2008, just over 1.5% of the U.S. electricity supply, powering the equivalent of over 5.7 million homes.

All this under an unfriendly administration. Can we do even better under Obama? Let me hear you say it: “Yes, We Can!”