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Wind farm melt down

FILE - In this May 6, 2009, file photo, legendary Texas oil ...
2009 AP file photo. T. Boone Pickens discussing his wind farm plans.

T. Boone Pickens recent decision to stop planned development of his massive wind farm project in North Texas highlights some of the problems we as a nation will face in our forced rush to embrace alternative renewable energy sources.

Pickens had plans for a wind farm of 687 turbines on 200,000 acres of leased land in the Texas panhandle. The wind turbines which stand up to 400 feet tall have been ordered and are due to begin arriving next year. The project was slated for completion by 2014. The $2 billion dollar investment in General Electric turbines would have generated 4,000 megawatts of electricity. This would be sufficient to power over 1 million homes. The total project represented a $12 billion dollar investment in the future.

One of the deal breakers is apparently a transmission issue. The ability to rapidly and efficiently transmit electricity from these massive wind projects to the end users is critical. Electricity loss through the transmission grid can be up to 7.2%. In an industry that is currently at a competitive delivered cost disadvantage to other more conventionally generated sources, this is a significant expense in the cost of doing business. Part of  President Obama's stimulus bill contains money to upgrade and expand our existing electrical grid, but this is going to take a number of years to complete assuming we are able to invest the necessary money. At this point in time, it is a massive undertaking to build the infrastructure necessary to support a massive wind farm generating facility, which by its nature will be far removed from the population areas it serves. This obstacle will be addressed as we move forward technologically, but it will not happen over night.

The other obstacle is the sheer cost of such an aggressive project. Whether in the private sector or in the public one, a project of this scale is guaranteed to have significant cost overruns. The $12 billion dollar price tag is simply the starting point to get the project moving. How much more it will cost in the end is anyone's guess, but it will cost substantially more than the $12 billion. Arranging the financing for this type of project will be difficult, especially in our present financial climate. Even for a man as wealthy as T. Boone Pickens, it is a steep and risky investment. He does not have endless financial resources to invest in a technology that is still developing.

We need to develop and explore all of our energy options as we move into the future. New technologies will develop that will make some of these alternatives more cost effective and thus accelerate their development. Unfortunately, our ability to force resolution on some of these issues is limited. We cannot force a square peg into a round hole. We must approach this changing playing field with equal amounts of vision, hope, determination and fiscal common sense.

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