Wind Power Possibilities for San Francisco

BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
August 17, 2010

turbine

[Photo Credit: flickr user notaboutwill]

The US Department of Energy released their 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report outlining the current state of wind technology in the United States. The report is an exhaustive study of what is generally seen as solar power's less glamorous and less popular cousin.

Some interesting facts from the report include:

  • Wind power made up 39% of all new generating capacity in the United States last year
  • In 2009 $21 billion were invested and cumulative wind power grew by 40% in the United States
  • At the end of 2009 the United States led world cumulative installed wind capacity, however China surpassed us in new additions last year for the first time ever
  • Wind turbines provide enough energy in an average year to meet about 2.5 percent of electricity consumption in the nation.
  • It is expected that wind power development will be slower in 2010 than it was in 2009 because of the state of the economy, lower electricity prices and lower demand for renewable energy
  • Current Federal policy is now more favorable to wind energy than any other time in the past decade

The 2009 SPUR policy paper, Critical Cooling, which outlines local policy solutions to climate change, explores the expansion of small scale wind power generation in the San Francisco as a potential solution. It concluded that while small scale wind power has the potential to increase our energy independence and contribute to San Francisco's renewable energy generation capacity, it is still more expensive than small scale solar as a climate change mitigation strategy. Small scale wind power can be cost-competitive in some places, but because of the micro-scale nature of the wind resource, it must be studied on a site by site basis. (A San Francisco Urban Wind Power Task Force Report from 2009 makes specific recommendations for the City of San Francisco and is also worth reading.)

While efforts have been made at the local level to encourage the installation of wind power generators (in 2008 the mayor made attempts to streamline the permitting process for residential installations), not everyone is crazy about the idea of harnessing the wind for electricity. The San Francisco Examiner recently released a news story about a Miraloma Park resident, Nathan Miller, who wants to install a small wind turbine in his front yard in order to move toward energy independence. Others in his neighborhood however, are rallying together to fight the installation of this turbine, claiming that its design is not appropriate for an urban setting.

We believe they're wrong. Small scale, privately-owned renewable installations are a cheap way for the city to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. We shouldn't let the aesthetic objections of a few compromise the ultimately essential project of energy independence and carbon neutrality. We should continue to work to make the installation of small scale wind turbines and other renewables easier by removing any policy barriers that exist, and by reaching out to those who may not understand the urgency of moving our energy portfolio more and more to renewable sources. The more widely adopted renewable energy technology becomes, the more hopeful we are that it will be cheaper and more accepted.