This past Earth Day, President Barack Obama, speaking at an Iowa wind-turbine factory, delivered a gusty peroration. "The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy," he said. "America can be that nation. America must be that nation."
VIDEO: A tour of Stetson Wind
Earlier this month, speaking at Harvard, Energy Secretary Steven Chu lamented that we're not that nation. Not yet. Even as the cost of creating wind power "has come down by more than a factor of 10" in recent years, he said, we've so far nonetheless "fundamentally surrendered" the development of green-energy technology to Europe and Asia. "We have an opportunity to be an innovation leader," he added, calling for a "new industrial revolution."
New England may be used to being the birthplace of revolutions, but in the case of wind power, that ship has sailed. States out West are far outproducing us, and will likely continue to. That said, we still could be a player in the nascent wind industry; we've just got some catching up to do.
The president has called for wind energy to contribute 20 percent of America's electricity needs and create as many as 250,000 jobs within the next two decades. So far, Texas is far and away the national leader, with more than 8000 megawatts worth of turbines churning the air. (One megawatt, or one million watts, is enough to power 400 to 500 homes.) But here in New England, more and more towers are going up among trees and atop mountains as we start to take advantage of the most viable green-energy source the area has to offer.
Development of renewable resources "has the potential to skyrocket," says Vamsi Chadalavada, senior vice-president and chief operating officer for ISO New England, which runs the six states' electrical grid. And wind, he says, "makes up about 85 percent of [the] proposed renewable projects in the region."
Maine, the most oil-dependent state in the country, has set out to establish itself as the wind-power leader in the region. At this point, Maine produces more than 100 megawatts, compared with just a quarter of that in New Hampshire, and six or so megawatts each for Massachusetts and Vermont. (Connecticut produces no wind energy, and Rhode Island has just two turbines— although more are planned.)
It's probably an overstatement to say, as Democratic representative Chellie Pingree did on The Colbert Report last week, that "Maine is going to be the wind capital of the world."
But with ample open space and an elected leadership intent on embracing the state's potential there's plenty of room to grow. With Maine — like all New England states — mandating that an increased percentage of its energy come from renewable sources, there's plenty of incentive to do so: Governor John Baldacci has pledged to see 3000 megawatts of wind power installed statewide by 2020.