Farming the Wind on the Gulf Coast of Texas

The demand for wind and other renewable energy resources continues to rise in the face of high oil prices. Noah Adams speaks with Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, about a new proposal to build a wind farm on the coast of Galveston, Texas.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams with a question. Could the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Texas, become the largest offshore wind energy farm in America? That's what developers are hoping as they plan to erect more than four dozen wind turbines to supply electricity for 40,000 homes. And here to talk about all this is Ira Flatow, host of "Science Friday," a regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY.

Welcome, Ira.

IRA FLATOW reporting:

Hi, Noah.

ADAMS: Texas is an oil state. Why the interest in wind power there? Why does it work there?

FLATOW: Yeah, you know, it's hard to believe that we're talking about Texas as a wind power. But actually Texas ranks as the country's number-two supplier of electricity from wind. It is right behind California. It already has 16 wind farms operating around the state. There's another five or six on the drawing boards. They're going into service this year. And as we know how Texans like to do things in a big way, the wind turbines in Texas are also among the biggest in the country, some standing higher than the Statue of Liberty.

ADAMS: These are high-tech windmills. They're not just the old-fashioned wooden things.

FLATOW: Right.

ADAMS: These are pretty tall.

FLATOW: And they're able to withstand the kinds of winds we might see, you know, in the Gulf. We've been watching the hurricanes come through the Gulf. Don't forget, the manufacturers of these windmills, some of the biggest in the world, they're turning in the North Sea. They're out there in pretty high winds. So they know how to make these very smart. They're computer-controlled. They can adjust them to withstand these high winds.

ADAMS: There's been quite a bit of dissention, as you know, around the country about--and around the world--about wind farms, both on land and offshore. There's a project proposed for Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts and there's an environmental concern there. Will the one proposed for Galveston face the same kind of resistance, do you think?

FLATOW: Well, you know, so far the answer is no for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the state of Texas controls the offshore territory, all the way to 10 miles out, making it very hard or at least harder for the federal government to step in if it wanted to, and so far it doesn't seem to want to. And second, Texans appear to be in favor of this. Remember, they're used to seeing oil and gas rigs in the Gulf. It's not a foreign concept to them, like a windmill might be to somebody in Nantucket. So the developers don't see much opposition to obtaining the federal permits that they're going to need. And what's even more interesting here is that the movement to wind energy gained momentum when a fellow named George Bush was governor.

ADAMS: Is there sort of an official or semiofficial position on wind power?

FLATOW: Well, we don't see the president putting a windmill in the back yard of the White House, like we saw Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House to show his support. But you will find a lot of support in the federal government in places where you might not expect it. For example, guess who has become the great champion of wind power and renewable energy in the government? And I know you're not going to guess this, so I'll tell you. It's the US Air Force. The Air Force has erected wind towers all around the world. And this year the Air Force won the 2005 Green Power Leadership Award for its use of renewable energy.

ADAMS: You know, I might have guessed the Air Force if you'd given me a chance. But what else...

FLATOW: Wind, Air Force. I get it. Yeah.

ADAMS: Right. What else are they doing with renewable energy?

FLATOW: Well, believe it or not, the Air Force is the largest single buyer of green power in the US government. It also generates electricity with biomass at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. And it has 3,500 heat pumps around the country that draw heat and cooling out of the ground in different installations. So it really is out there.

ADAMS: Ira Flatow, host of "Science Friday," a regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY.

Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

ADAMS: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Noah Adams.

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