AUSTIN -- Remember the guy in "The Graduate" who tells Dustin
Hoffman, with heavy emphasis, "Plastics"? This column is sort of in the same
vein. Psst, kids, there's money in wind. If I were a
fresh graduate looking for something useful and profitable to do with my
life, I'd sure take a close look at windpower.
The American Wind Energy Association recently met in Austin, and
danged if there aren't over 500 businesses involved, and vendors with
high-tech booths and all that good trade show stuff. As they say on Wall
Street, there's been "solid growth" in the wind biz. Naturally, the United
States is lagging behind Denmark, et al, but even so, this thing is ginnin'.
This will be huge.
According to the Wind Energy Association, they expect the
industry to grow by 25 percent in 2003, moving from the current production
of 4,700 megawatts to 6,000 megawatts (enough to serve 1,500,000 homes).
The industry is still small enough and new enough so you can sit
around and drink coffee with already-legendary founders and pioneers such as
Dan Juhl, who has a windfarm in Minnesota. As with the computer industry at
its inception, you can almost see this one moving gradually from dreamers
and tinkerers in garages to big business. Still not many suits around, and
there's lots of shared excitement and enthusiasm and the sense of being
"present at the creation."
There are lots of amazing potential side effects -- saving the
family farm, for one. Representatives from Willie Nelson's FarmAid were at
the convention, along with a guy from the American Corn Growers Foundation
and others who see the opportunities in "wind farming." The best venues for
mass-scale wind power are the Dakotas, the Upper Midwest, generally, Kansas
and Texas. Texas, of course, will be the Saudi Arabia of wind, so don't get
your hopes up that this will finally put the Great State out of the energy
Wind power makes so much sense that no one really needs to make
the case for it. It's at competitive prices now, and it beats the tar out of
nuclear power plants and scraping the top off every mountain in West
Virginia. Just put a windmill on top of the mountain instead. The only known
drawback to this is that one of the early wind farms in California, near
Palm Springs, was built in a bird flyway. Killed a lot of birds. Since bird
flyways can be mapped, no one needs to make that mistake again. Otherwise,
we're looking at completely clean energy, infinitely renewable, and it can
only get cheaper.
Wind power can be done at almost any level: The big windmills
like the ones in the huge wind farm being built offshore from Denmark,
require an investment of $1 million each. But there are also people in the
business selling small mills, enough to power one house or farm, for about
Windpower needs what every other energy source in this country
has received -- a boost from the government. When did nuclear, oil, gas and
coal not get tax credits, depreciation allowances, subsidies, special breaks
and the full range of corporate welfare? There's a House bill pending that
would give a 15 percent tax credit up to $2,000 on a small mill.
A more ambitious effort called Project Apollo, a 10-year,
$300-billion research plan to promote energy efficiency and reduce
dependence on foreign oil has just been endorsed by 10 major labor unions,
including steel and auto workers. And why are the big unions suddenly green?
Because cheaper energy will preserve American manufacturing jobs, which are
now hemorrhaging to the Third World.
"We believe this plan can create good manufacturing jobs, good
construction jobs, can improve public infrastucture, can be good for the
environment and can reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Leo Gerard,
president of United Steelworkers, at a news conference last week.
Politically, of course, the problem is we have an administration
largely populated by oil and gas people with a vested interest in keeping
out renewables, and a Congress that responds only to big money donations.
And there ain't no bigger money than oil and gas money. The countervailing
forces are the common sense of the American people and the competitive
advantage that will go to nations with cheap, renewable energy. If Denmark
suddenly becomes an economic powerhouse, you'll know why.
As long as we're on the environment, the Pew Oceans Commission
Report released last week is grim indeed: The oceans are being fished out at
an appalling rate. Many countries subsidize their fishing fleets, and the
result is a disastrous level of overfishing. I know the Bush Administration
doesn't like multilateral treaties, but this is a perfect example of why
it's wise to keep your relations with other countries in good working
order -- rather than punishing old allies for failing to encourage you in a
war to stop weapons of mass destruction that can't even be found.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web
page at www.creators.com.
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