Energy independence: Energy developers consider effects on environment
The pursuit of energy independence raises numerous environmental concerns. Environmentalists have challenged coal for its pollutants and oil and natural gas for fracking, but wind and solar power also raise other issues.
As companies pursue efforts to develop domestic sources of both traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy, industry and government leaders are trying to find a balance between energy production and protecting the environment.
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How ‘green' is green?
Manufacturing and transporting wind turbines and other renewable energy sources require the use of fossil fuels. The time it takes for a power generator to produce as much energy as it uses during manufacturing and transportation is known as the “energy payback time.” The typical payback time for a large scale wind turbine is three to eight months, depending on the wind speed at the site, according to the American Wind Energy Association. A typical wind farm has an average life expectancy of about 30 years. The energy payback for solar power was three to four years in 2004, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Wind power capacity
Top states by wind power capacity as of July (in megawatts) from the American Wind Energy Association.
2. Iowa: 4,524
3. California: 4,425
4. Illinois: 3,055
5. Oregon: 2,820
6. Minnesota: 2,718
7. Washington: 2,699
8. Oklahoma 2,171
9. Colorado: 1,805
10. North Dakota: 1,469
“I don't think we would want to stampede toward energy independence at a way where we throw all environmental caution to the wind,” said Jay Hakes, who served as director for policy and research for the President's Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission.
“I'm convinced you can build safe deep-water wells, but you have to do it in a measured way and make sure you're not throwing the environment under the bus. We can do all these things for the economy and national security and do it in an environmentally responsible way.”
While the country continues to pursue traditional fuels such as oil and natural gas, renewables such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass also should continue to be studied and developed, said Stephen McKeever, vice president for research and technology transfer at Oklahoma State University.
“A stable energy policy for the United States and for North America will always include a certain portion of renewable energy,” McKeever said. “If we focus only on fossil fuels, the downside will be the pollution problems you get from burning fossil fuels and the necessary dangers with that kind of industry compared to solar or other renewables.”
The country's electricity generation in 2010 was 70 percent fossil fuels, 20 percent nuclear and 10 percent renewable, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Wind power represented 2.3 percent of the country's total mix.
Texas leads the country with 10,646 megawatts of wind power. Oklahoma is the No. 8 producer of wind power with 2,171 megawatts of installed capacity.
One hundred megawatts is enough to power more than 25,000 average homes.
Oklahoma policymakers have set a voluntary target of 15 percent by 2016, but the state is expected to pass 17 percent renewables capacity by the end of this year, Oklahoma Energy Secretary Mike Ming said.
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