Monday, February 09, 2004

U.S. Researchers Argue for Harnessing Wind Power

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wind power, an abundant, clean and affordable alternative to coal, could become a leading source of U.S. electricity with the right political support and investment, researchers said on Thursday.

Writing in the journal Science, Mark Jacobson and Gilbert Masters of Stanford University argue that wind power is both safer and cheaper than coal, the top U.S. energy source.

``There is no reason not to invest in wind at this point,'' Jacobson said in an interview. ``Wind is so obviously cheaper if we look at total costs.''

Wind-generated energy costs 3 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour -- about the same as coal -- but the indirect health and environmental costs associated with coal increase its costs to 5.5 to 8.3 cents per kilowatt hour, Jacobson said.

The researchers said coal dust kills 2,000 U.S. mine workers annually and has cost taxpayers about $35 billion in monetary and medical benefits to former miners since 1973.

Karen Batra, spokesperson for the National Mining Association, acknowledged that coal mining has an environmental impact, but said ``we are all working toward a goal of reducing emissions and have made tremendous strides in reducing emissions in the past 30 years since the Clean Air Act.''

Critics of wind power argue that the turbines -- which look like giant propellers -- have been linked to the accidental deaths of migratory birds that get caught inside the propeller blades, and that the turbines take up a tremendous amount of space. But Jacobson said these problems could be avoided by selecting sites out of migration paths and by paying farmers to put them on their land.

``Wind has trivial health and environmental problems associated with it in comparison with coal,'' Jacobson said.

Although wind power is the fastest growing source of energy in the world, the United States has been slow to use it because coal is so cheap and wind has received no government incentives, Jacobson said.


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