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Indicator: Wind Power Takes Off

One of the world's largest wind farms is now planned for the Greater Thames Estuary, 12 miles off the coast of England. The estimated $2.75 billion project will include 270 wind turbines spread over 152 square miles and is projected to supply 1,000 megawatts (MW), enough electricity to power about one quarter of the homes in London. The project, to be completed by 2011, will be built by London Array Limited, a consortium that includes Shell Wind­Energy and others.
 
Concerns have been voiced by some environmentalists that the wind farm may harm wildlife and shipping. Other environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth, support the project as a significant move toward addressing climate change through emissions-free power generation.

Due in large part to rising fuel prices, 2004 was a banner year for wind power, especially in Europe. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, global wind power capacity in 2004 grew 20 percent to a total of 47,317 MW, with 72 percent of the new installations in Europe. The leaders are currently Germany and Spain with 16,629 MW and 8,263 MW of capacity respectively.
 
The U.S. has 6,740 MW of wind capacity on-line. According to the American Wind Energy Association, U.S. developers will bring between 2,000 and 2,500 MW of new U.S. wind power projects on-line this year, breaking previous records. California is likely to remain in the lead in the U.S, with more than 365 MW of planned projects. However, other states, such as Texas and New York, are catching up.

With increased demand, suppliers of wind equipment have begun to raise prices, raising capital costs of wind turbines. However, no developer has cancelled a wind project recently because of costs, and experts see the cost increases as a sign that the industry is growing more profitable and healthier. Stable operation costs—including zero fuel costs and zero risk of depletion of the fuel—make wind power an increasingly attractive alternative to fossil-fuel generation as fossil-fuel prices continue to increase unpredictably and supplies show signs of depletion.

However, William Kelly writes in California Energy Circuit that the U.S. wind industry is still tenuous and its health will depend in part on whether Congress extends the federal wind production tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
—Rik Langendoen

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