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Rule forces us to ask how much the wind costs

September 27, 2013 J

In 2006 we people of Washington voted to force ourselves to buy an ever-increasing share of our electricity from windmills. The law set out in Initiative 937 said “renewable” sources, but it might as well have said wind power, since abundant hydroelectricity is deliberately excluded, leaving wind the only “renewable” power source that is remotely practical.

And, if the goal was to force investment in wind power, it worked. Just drive to Ellensburg to see the whirling results.

The region now has a wind power capacity, on paper, of 4,500 megawatts. That is certainly a lot, four Seattles, even if it only happens in moments of heavy bluster. There will be more. The law requires large utilities to obtain 9 percent of their power from renewables by 2016 and 15 percent by 2020.

But all this windy carbonless renewability raises some reasonable questions, such as: How much? Who pays? Is there a better way? Are we actually reducing our carbon footprint, or are we covering Eastern Washington with windmills and raising our electric rates for not much environmental gain?

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