Biofuels, wind power show gains, but hurdles remain
Biofuels and wind power are having the biggest new impact in American power generation, according to a report released today by the U.S. Energy Department. Consumption of biofuels has risen 16-fold since 2000 and wind power use has seen an eight-fold increase during the same period.
Among renewable energy sources, only solar power is rising faster, the Energy Department said. But solar and photo-voltaic power are still the smallest contributors to the nation's energy needs, accounting for just 1% of the renewable total.
Hydroelectric power remains the biggest resource, at 31% of all renewable energy produced in the U.S., but it is not a growing resource. Wood is next, at 25%, followed by biofuels (23%), wind (11%), waste (6%), and geothermal (3%). Altogether, renewables account for 8% of U.S. energy production.
The Energy Department said that improved technology was part of the reason for the growth in electricity generation from wind power, which rose from about 6 billion kilowatt-hours in 2000 to about 95 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010. But the Energy Department also cited the importance of financial incentives in the form of federal production tax credits and grants.
The American Wind Energy Assn. is lobbying Congress to extend the tax measures amid partisan political wrangling over the issue, fearing the industry's ability to thrive without them.
Biofuels have made a huge splash recently. Earlier this month, Continental Airlines Flight 1403 made history when it landed at Chicago's O'Hare airport as the nation's first biofuel-powered revenue generating passenger flight. Alaska Airlines this week launched a round of 75 flights it said would be powered by biofuels.
But the biggest hurdle for renewables is cost. For 11 days of biofuel-powered flights, Alaska Airlines purchased 28,000 gallons of biofuel for a whopping $476,000. That works out to about $17 a gallon or about six times more than what it would have paid for regular jet fuel.
--Ronald D. White
Photo: Turbines line the hillside at First Wind's power project in Sheffield, Vt., which is ready to generate power after an eight-year planning and building process. Photo credit: Toby Talbot/AP