Renewables triumph, liberty blows in the wind

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Renewables triumph; plus two issues of liberty Blowin' in the Wind

A couple of weeks ago the second largest wind farm to be built in the U.S. was dedicated and came fully on-line, generating and transmitting its capacity of 845 megawatts of electricity. Three-hundred-thirty-eight tall and uniquely powerful turbines now turn slowly and quietly out on vast Shepherd's Flat in northeastern Oregon, generating 2 billion kilowatt-hours per year. The acreage runs right along the border with Washington state.

Coincidentally, the same day the Shepherd's Flat project broke ground two years ago, efforts to build yet another nuclear reactor on Chesapeake Bay were cancelled and abandoned, as nuclear's cost and risks seem increasingly untenable. And on that day, the parent power company's stock soared, as investors heaved a sigh of relief that the nuclear portfolio was being scrapped.

Back on the West Coast, Shepherd's Flat electricity flows to Southern California Edison under current contract. The annual economic benefit to the state of Oregon is in the tens of millions. And our atmosphere can now be spared 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (the equivalent of 260,000 cars pulled off the roads) because of the fossil fuels which won't be burned to generate that electricity.

Investors in the wind farm included the state of Oregon, Google and a couple of Japanese corporations. The Department of Energy guaranteed the loans under the federal stimulus program. Google has also "stepped out into the wind" on the east coast, investing $5 billion in the Atlantic Wind Connection, a 355 mile-long underwater transmission line from New Jersey to Virginia, designed to collect 6,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind turbines.

All very promising, considering the DOE states that the winds buffeting America's coastline have the capacity to provide four times the electricity that is now needed throughout the country. So we're raising our sails — and our turbine blades!

Navajo Dam, impounding the San Juan River north of Farmington, has driven two behemoth fishes to the brink of extinction. This pair of multi-million-year-old species, the razorback sucker and the Colorado pikeminnow, will astound you!

The razorbacks grew to five feet long and lived up to 40 years — in their pre-dammed world. They were built for speed on the open river and communicate through unique light-triggered eye rolls. Go figure.

The pikeminnow in question is the largest in North America, potentially six feet long and 100 pounds! Before the dam, this predatory pikeminnow tracked its prey for hundred of miles up and down the great river.

Efforts are now being made to time the dam's releases to mimic the natural ebbs and flows of the mighty San Juan. Spawning habitat is being re-created along the river's course through the Navajo Nation. These efforts have been hailed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as "one of the most successful endangered species programs in the western United States."

The intensive extraction of coal, gas, oil and uranium throughout the Farmington basin of course threatens all natural balance in the region. But that's a sob-story for another day.

Sources: Beyond Nuclear, Center for Constitutional Rights, Nature Conservancy New Mexico.

Albrecht is a San Antonio resident. She has written global affairs digests for New Mexican newspapers and journals for 13 years.

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