Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

IRA FLATOW, host:

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

Next up, our continuing look at the growth of alternative energy. Spurred by government tax breaks along with high prices of gas and other fuels, more and more states have embraced alternative fuel sources as the key to clean energy, an answer to global warming, and independence from outside sources of oil. Many of them are finding the answer - that the answer - is blowing in the wind, literally.

Just like the song says: from the mountains to the prairie, to the oceans, white with foam - wind farms are on the drawing boards or under construction in states across the country - on the land and in the sea. The projects are not without opposition. Some people think they're just plain ugly. They say, not in my backyard, not on my horizon.

Some environmentalists aren't keen on wind farms. Wind-turban blades can slice up birds and bats. In general, wind farms sited on open wide spaces like the Dakotas, for example, are generally accepted as less of an eyesore than those planned on, let's say, off the coast of Long Island or Massachusetts, or the Allegheny Mountains of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

And what if you want to build a wind farm? How do you get started? Well first you have to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration, the people who regulate the airline industry. I know I hear you saying - what do they have to do with alterative energy? Well, they want to make sure that your wind turban won't block civilian or military radar and air traffic.

And back in January, wind farm opponents in Congress asked the Department of Defense to study whether wind farms might block radar for long-range air defense. And that DOD report was due on May 8th but despite letters of protest from Congress, nothing's come out yet. Until the Congress has the report, the FAA can't give any new wind projects around the country the green light.

So now, the Sierra Club is suing Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department for holding up the development of wind farms by not finishing the study on time. This hour we'll be looking at how some states have openly embraced wind energy and our eagerly installing wind turbans, and we'll also look at some of the roadblocks that they are facing.

And if you'd like to talk about wind energy, our number is 1-800-989-9255, 1-800-989-TALK. Let me introduce my guests. Kristin Henry is staff attorney at the Sierra Club in San Francisco. She's in charge of the DOD suit, and Mr. Henry joins us today from the studio of WHYY in Philadelphia. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Ms. KRISTIN HENRY (Staff Attorney, Sierra Club): Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Laurie Jodziewicz is Communications and Political Science Specialist at the American Wind Energy Association, a wind-industry group in Washington. Laurie Jodziewicz specializes in issues surrounding the siting of wind farms, where exactly the wind turbans are placed on the ground. Mr. Jodziewicz joins us toddy from the studios of NPR in Washington. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY. Forgive me for butchering your name. There's a long line of names that I butcher every week.

Ms. LAURIE JODZIEWICZ (Communications and Policy Specialist, American Wind Energy Association): No problem. Thanks for having me on the air.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Kermit Froetschner is a farmer in Spearville, Kansas, where the governor, Kathleen Sebelius, inaugurated a big wind farm in June. Governor Sebelius wants to make Kansas a clean-energy state. Mr. Froetschner supported the Spearville wind project and he has wind turbans on his land, and he's enthusiastic about them. And Mr. Froetschner joins us today from the studios at KFDI in Wichita. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Mr. Froetschner.

Mr. KERMIT FROETSCHNER (Kansas Wind Farmer): Thank you. Glad to be here.

FLATOW: Matt Steuerwalt is an energy policy advisor to the governor of Washington State, Christine Gregoire in Tacoma. Governor Gregoire inaugurated a new wind farm in central Washington just this week. She wants Washington, the State of Washington, to be energy independent, and she considers alternative energy sources like wind power crucial to making that happen. Mr. Steuerwalt joins us today from studios at KUOW Public Radio in Seattle. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY Mr. Steuerwalt.

Mr. MATT STEUERWALT (Energy Policy Advisor to Governor Christine Gregoire, State of Washington): Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Why don't we begin with you - work from the last up. Is it possible, do you think, for a state to become energy independent with the way - we have the networks of pipelines and power sources and grids and things like that working in the U.S.?

Mr. STEUERWALT: It's not a short-term prospect but we think we can get there over a longer term, and we've got to get started moving that direction. So, if we can do it, we can do it out here where we have some tremendous natural advantages.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Let me go back to Kristin Henry. I'm going back to this Sierra Club suit, and you actually name Donald Rumsfeld personally in this suit. Why did you bring this suit and what happens from here?

Ms. HENRY: We filed a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense because they were required by the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2006 to do a study on how windmills impact military radar, and that report was supposed to be done on May 8, and to date has not been finished yet. So we filed a lawsuit to compel them to issue the study that's long overdue.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. And so what happens now?

Ms. HENRY: Um, now, hopefully, we're going to go to court and hopefully we can get an order from the court to force the Department of Defense to issue this report.

FLATOW: So you're saying basically, by not issuing this report, the Department of Defense is holding up all these wind projects, or sort of putting a moratorium on them?

Ms. HENRY: What happened was, after they were commissioned to write this report, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security issued a policy statement which said that they are going to contest the building of any windmill which is within radar line of sight of any military radar system. And the FAA has been interpreting that policy to halt - to not allow any windmills to be built within radar line of sight.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Well, we called the DOD and they said there's no moratorium. They wouldn't give us a spokesperson to come on, saying this was in litigation now, and that they want to preserve national security and encourage wind power at the same time, and the FAA said there's no moratorium - they're just really behind schedule because they're processing so many applications to build wind farms.

Ms. HENRY: I mean...

FLATOW: How do you react to that?

Ms. HENRY: The Department of Defense issued a policy statement on March 21, 2006 which specifically states that they contest the building of any windmill within radar line of sight. And it says that this moratorium is to remain in effect until this study is completed. So I don't think I can believe them.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Um, Laurie Jodziewicz, what has the FAA said to wind farm applicants? What have they actually said to them?

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: Well, what happens when you're developing a wind farm is, you put in an application to the FAA and they review the site. And what normally happens is that they look at it on a case-by-case basis. But what we saw, once the Department of Defense study began and once this policy statement that Kristin mentioned came out, what we saw was the FAA started issuing letters to projects saying, until this study is completed we cannot allow you - we won't give you this determination of no hazard, as they call it, to allow you to move forward.

What was curious, and one of the reasons that the wind industry is concerned about this, is just the uncertainty. This is actually only affecting - it's not affecting projects nationwide. We're only seeing these FAA letters in a few states in the upper Midwest. Meanwhile, other projects are moving forward and being approved by FAA. So I think this has caused an incredible amount of uncertainty in the industry and, you know, I think that these developers are working on schedules. They need to build things before the snow starts falling, and they're on construction schedules. And so this uncertainty created by this whole situation is really a concern of ours.

FLATOW: Do you have any reason to suspect why certain states were singled out, like Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota?

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: Well, we don't really know. You know, I think that there are particular concerns, perhaps in those states, but it's not been clear and a lot of the defense and a lot of this review is happening on a classified level because of the national security implications. And so we just - we're trying to get a clearer picture of why these states - I think the good news is that we are seeing some projects move forward.

FLATOW: Mm hmm.

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: There were projects in Illinois and in the Dakotas that the FAA took a closer look at the site, with the military, and said, actually, we aren't concerned about this. So we're hoping that that happens more and more.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. 1-800-989-8255. We're talking about wind power and where it's happening in some states, and one state in particular is Kansas. Kermit Froetschner, you haven't had these problems in Kansas, right?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: No we haven't. In fact, I think I'm kind of unique in that there is an FAA tower on my property and they work very good with us. You had to stay out of their line of sight, within a hundred feet, but other than that they agreed with everything we're doing.

FLATOW: Now, you're a farmer. Tell us a little bit about your farm.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Well, we live in Spearville, Kansas, which is about 20 miles from Dodge City. They started in 2001. They built a wind farm west of Dodge, that's Gray County Wind Farm. I became interested, and in 2002 Annexco(ph) Development Corporation pulled into my yard. So they wanted to start a wind farm, and I was enthusiastic.

So me and Bud Pickle was the man at that time and we have a good substation there. We have transmission lines. We have high ground, and pretty level ground, so it's a good place to start from. And I released on my ground, and then we ran around to the neighbors and got probably 20 neighbors, and they were 100 percent for it and we got them leased up.

Then Annexco decided to go out a little farther and they got about 20,000 acres in one block. And then the tax credits, which is 1.7 cents, they ran out in December 2003, so that kind of put a hold on it for a year. And then they reinstated those.

And in the meantime, they put a met(ph) tower on my ground, which measured the wind for the last almost four years. And it's windy, it's windy out there.

FLATOW: Do you make a good amount of money from having these turbines on your land?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: The lease is minimal. They pay you so much a tower per year. And they're placed about a half a mile apart, rows north and south and in the row, probably 1,000 feet apart.

FLATOW: And do you make more money on the turbines or on the farming part?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: I'll take the turbines.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, what kind of, what do you grow or farm on your farm?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Basically it's 90 percent cultivated ground. Irrigates some, wheat, (unintelligible) corn and cattle.

FLATOW: Now, if you planted switch grass or some other kind of alcohol-potential farm crop there, you could have the whole ball of wax in one spot.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Well, I don't know about that, but I do have a quite a bit of ground in the conservation reserve program, which are friendly to wind farms. And they basically take up about four to five acres on a quarter section, you know, for their roads and for their tower sites. But to me it's minimal.

FLATOW: What about people who don't like the wind turbines, think they're ugly? Have people said to you, we don't like these things here?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: We've had one response just last week that they said they thought they were an eyesore. But 90, 99 percent are - wholeheartedly support it.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And especially since you can make a profit doing this.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Well, right. Yeah. It's a good supplement to keep the farm.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Matt, the Washington State also?

Mr. STEUERWALT: We're seeing a lot of the same thing that Kermit is describing for our farmers. We've got folks out in eastern Washington who are growing wheat right under the towers. It's a second cash crop for them. We had some folks in some - you know, we've got some facilities that are pretty remote, so there isn't a lot of local opposition to most of these.

To some of the ones that are closer to some of the communities, what we've been finding is that the governor pushed through a tax change bill last year to allow the cities and counties to take some of the tax revenue from these projects. And you'd be amazed at what happens to the opposition when it becomes time to fund schools and fire districts and local hospitals with the revenue from these projects. So...

FLATOW: Do you have a...

Mr. STEUERWALT: It's a real winner.

FLATOW: Does the state have an actual plan to, you know, of a mix of different alternative energies?

Mr. STEUERWALT: We have more of a regional plan, Ira. Because the electric grid is so interconnected, and we're particularly connected to our neighbors in British Columbia, down in Oregon and Idaho and Montana, through most of the transmission that's owned by the federal government through the Bonville Power Administration.

Every five years or so, the four states come together and do a regional plan through something called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The last plan was a couple of years ago and it identified about 6,000 megawatts of new wind over the next 15 years that were possible.

Which is, you know, to give you...

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. STEUERWALT: ...a sense of perspective, I think there's only 9,000 installed in the country right now.

FLATOW: We're talking about wind power this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

Let's see if we can go to the phones and get a couple of calls in here. Let's go to Ben in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Hi, Ben.

BEN (Caller): How you doing?

FLATOW: Hi there.

BEN: I love the show. I was wondering, you mentioned the environmental effects on bats and birds around the windmills. Is it destroying environments? Is it actually killing the animals? And what studies is it on that?

FLATOW: Who can answer that one?

Ms. JODZIEWICZ I...

FLATOW: We've seen incidences where bats have been hurt by the wind turbines and also birds.

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: That's right, Ira.

FLATOW: Kristin, go ahead.

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: This is actually Laurie. (Unintelligible) sorry.

FLATOW: Sorry.

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: You know, I think that all forms of development and all forms of energy have impacts, and the wind industry doesn't shy away from the impacts we can have. I think that what's important to know is that outside of the Altamont Pass, which is the first commercial project that was installed in the United States, that the effects to birds are really minimal, and especially when they're put into context with all of the other things.

Even if we got 100 percent of our power from wind power, which we, you know -which is probably not realistic - but even if we had 100 percent of our power from wind, the bird impacts would be very minimal, compared to things like buildings, cats, vehicles, pesticides and all of the other things that affect birds.

With regard to bats, there was something that was unexpectedly discovered in 2003. There was a project here in the Eastern United States that they were looking to make sure that there weren't a whole lot of impacts. They were looking for birds and they didn't find a lot of birds, but they did find a lot of bats.

And the industry immediately partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Service, with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and with the leading bat organization in the world, Bat Conservation International. We formed together and we've been funding research to understand and hopefully solve the issue that we discovered by better understanding what might make our site risky for bats, but also other ways to deter bats away from wind turbines.

So I think that overall, our environmental impacts are minimal. But we certainly want to make sure that we take care of whatever we can.

FLATOW: You do have cases where there are environmentalists who are against the wind turbines and yet you have the Sierra Club, Kristin, in favor of it.

Ms. THOMAS: There are siting - I mean, windmills can cause impacts on bats and birds - but there are siting mitigation measures that you can do to reduce those impacts. But at the same point in time, right now we need to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil, and wind energy allows us to do that.

And to basically install a nationwide moratorium on wind energy development is not what this nation needs to be doing at this point in time, especially with the global warming threat.

FLATOW: We're going to take a short break, come back and talks lots more about wind energy. Maybe there's a project in your hometown or in your state you'd like to share with us. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: We're talking about wind hour this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

My guests are Kristin Thomas, staff attorney at the Sierra Club in San Francisco; Laurie Jodziewicz, communications and policy specialist at the American Wind Energy Association in Washington; Kermit Froetschner, farmer and wind power advocate in Spearville, Kansas; and Matt Steuerwalt, energy policy advisor to Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington State in Tacoma.

Our number: 1-800-989-8255. Let's see if we can go to the phones, get a couple of calls in here. Mike in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

MIKE (Caller): Yes. I just recently retired after 24 years in the utility industry. And my point is I'd like to tell everyone just exactly about the costs of wind energy. In a typical coal-fired power plant, it talks about $25 a megawatt to produce power. But the quoted figures for wind energy is closer to $75 a megawatt.

This may be green power, and it may be non-polluting power, but the public needs to understand there is a very definite cost. I mean when you start seeing your utility bills go up, part of it is the utilization of wind power. And I think everyone should understand that. You know, what makes wind power socially acceptable in a lot of areas is the tax breaks and the money that's going to the individuals who have units sited on their property.

But to the taxpayer or to the rate-payers as a whole, wind power is a relatively expensive situation. And if you take here in Wisconsin, wind power is typically only available about 30 percent of the time. And so the other 70 percent of the time, when these generators are down and not running, they are actually consuming power off of a coal-fired generation system here in Wisconsin.

There's relays, protected relays and heaters and various other electrical entities in these machines that consume power. So the 30 percent of the time when they are actively running is, you know, offset somewhat by the 70 percent of the time when they are idle. And they are actually a load on the inherent system.

So I think, you know, a lot of people talk about wind power but you need to understand that these are not all that they're supposed to be when it comes to providing a good source of power for the public.

FLATOW: Laurie Jodziewicz?

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: Yeah. I think that there's a couple of things there. Wind energy is actually competitive with other sources of electricity, fossil fuel sources of electricity, right now. It's in a competitive range. It depends on the site, but it's about three to seven cents per kilowatt hour, which is I don't think is quite what the gentleman mentioned.

And I think the other thing to be aware of is - he mentioned this 30 percent. I think the - that's somewhat of a misunderstanding. Wind turbines have a rated power, which is if the wind was ideal, that's the amount of power that they would produce under the best circumstances.

What happens at wind sites is that the wind might not blow at that ideal rate but those turbines are still producing at somewhat of a lower level. And because of the way that utilities deal with power, this is a little bit different for them, but they certainly indicated that they can handle it.

There was a study that was recently done by some of the major power associations - the Edison Electric Institute, the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association - that said that they can handle wind on their system. It's something that they are interested in doing. And I think that that's, it's something we're seeing more and more. But it certainly is competitive with other forms of electricity. And it really does, in these days of high costs for especially things like natural gas, wind energy is actually brining down the costs of electricity to some consumers by offsetting that need for more natural gas use.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling, Mike.

MIKE: Sure.

FLATOW: Is wind power going to be local then? I mean we see states, you know, putting them in different places around the states. They're not feeding a national grid, are they? Or we're keeping them local at this point?

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: They are treated as other power plants. So what happens when a developer puts in and installs the turbines, they make a deal with the local utility and they feed into that local utility grid just like any other power plant, and then that utility sells the power to its various consumers.

There are cases where there are people who put a wind turbine up. There are residential-sized wind turbines that people use to power their homes, and we also see wind turbines at things like schools, offsetting the power use for a municipal solid waste-processing facility. But they're generally, in most cases, treated similar to other power plants.

IRA FLATOW, host:

Kermit, in Spearville where you live, is there room for more turbines on more farms and more acreage?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: The transmission lines is probably going to be the factor that hinders. I think they have enough. We put in 100 megawatts as of now. Thirty of them - half of them are up this morning. So - but as far - we're not in the grid, I guess.

I'm not an electrician, but we have power lines that need more transmission lines to make this farm expand. I think they could double it and still get the electricity towards the Woodston-Kansas City area. Kansas City Power and Light bought this first 100 megawatts as soon as it gets built. But after that I think they could double it. But then after that there's going to have to be more transmission lines, basically to get it in the grid, so to speak.

FLATOW: So you could be putting out more power if you just had the infrastructure to do it?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Right. I think, yes. I think it would snowball around here if we could get the electricity to where it's needed. There's not very many people out in our country. We produce more electricity out there than what we use. So we have to get it someplace where it's needed.

FLATOW: And that's what we keep hearing about other states, like the Dakotas and other places. Even if we make this electricity, how are we going to get it out of the state? The line's not there.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Yeah. The transmission lines is going to be the hindering factor, I think, in this. They're working on it. I think in years to come, in the not-too-distant future, there will be some more transmission lines, but who builds them? Who builds the lines, you know?

FLATOW: Right. That's why people had talked about an integrated approach where you would take the electricity and turn it into hydrogen by, you know, by water. Take some water, and you can take the - and then you truck the hydrogen out and now you can have a hydrogen economy based on wherever you make electricity.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Right.

FLATOW: But we don't have that infrastructure yet. That's quite interesting. 1-800-989-8255. How long does it take to put up one of those towers, Kermit?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: They started here in - well, Kansas City Power and Light decided to buy the 100 megawatts last December, and construction crews started moving in, in probably March, started building roads. All the crews came in to start building in April. I think they poured the first concrete April 20. They're done with all the pads now, and probably a little over halfway up with all the towers.

The towers themselves, once they get all the underground line and everything, the towers are just like a jigsaw puzzle. They just - they put up three or four a day, so they're at the final phases now, the construction, but the electrical work takes a lot of - they propose by the 1st of October it'll be, everything will be up and running.

FLATOW: So in a matter of months you can put a whole farm...

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Six months.

FLATOW: Six months you can put a whole farm together.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Right, uh-huh.

FLATOW: I don't know anything that can be put together, including my old erector set, and that's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FROETSCHNER: There's a lot of people going everywhere. There's a lot of pickups running around.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to the phones, go to George in Berlin, Germany. Hi. Welcome to Science Friday.

GEORGE (Caller): Hi, Ira. I just had two comments. I heard most of that conversation, and it pretty much answered one of them. The question was, is the grid set up primarily for fossil-fuel electricity?

And the other point was that two years ago I was in North Dakota/South Dakota, and the Indian nations there said that they could easily build the towers and provide a significant amount of energy for the United States. Maybe that's why Mr. Rumsfeld's blocking it.

And third, someone here in Germany patented a wind machine which did not have propellers but scooped the air. I heard this on the news here about three years ago. And since then, that has disappeared, so that's all I wanted to hear.

FLATOW: Let me ask you about, you're living in Europe. Do you go around Europe and see wind turbines in different places, different countries? Because Europe has adopted them much more quickly than the U.S.

GEORGE: Yes. I think Germany provided subsidies for people to build the wind machines, wind - what do you call them? But they probably have the most significant number. I know the Danes have numerous - we see them everywhere, particularly in Germany and in Denmark.

FLATOW: Well, thanks for calling and good luck to you. 1-800-989-8255. That turbine he was talking about, would that be - might be one that lies horizontally on the surface instead of up in the air? I know there's a design that the blades are sort of lying down and going around like a top.

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: Yeah. I think that there are a number of different kinds of technologies that people have been trying. I think that what we see now is these three-bladed machines on these tall towers, and that really has made the most economic sense.

The costs of wind energy have come down greatly from the 1980s, and I think that the industry has kind of coalesced around that model, although there are advances being made right now. But that's the one that really works that we can actually compete against some of the fossil fuels.

FLATOW: Kermit, how many more turbines would you like on your farm?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: As close as they get them. I have 16 on my property. I have 1,600 acres there, and so...

FLATOW: Are there other farmers with about the same kind of size property you are?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Yeah, in that ballpark. Yeah, there's a lot of them have two and four, some six. Yeah, it took in about 5,000, 5,500 acres is where this project is, and they've got room to expand all the way around. So hopefully there'll be a Phase Two in the not-too-distant future to try to get more people in on it.

FLATOW: Let's go to the phones, to Robert in Clayton, North Carolina. Hi, Robert.

ROBERT (Caller): Good afternoon. How are you?

FLATOW: Fine.

ROBERT: I joined late, and I heard a couple callers ago is where I sort of where I tuned in. And something that struck me in connection with assessing the economic viability of alternative energy sources is the fact that our models - and the caller was focused on, you know, the today-cost to the consumer as opposed to looking at an economic model that assesses, includes, you know, the long-term costs of environmental damage of impact, health impact, etc. And I would love to hear that addressed in the mix of, you know, the economic viability.

FLATOW: Let me just remind everybody that I'm Ira Flatow and this is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. Because that is a good question. You know, what is the alternative? What is the cost of not combating global warming, you know? How do you put a price on the water rising on all these cities?

ROBERT: Right, and health issues associated with fossil fuels.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. STEUERWALT: Ira, our utilities out in Washington actually do that when they do their planning.

FLATOW: And they come up with figures?

Mr. STEUERWALT: They actually - you know, you have to pick a figure for what you think carbon is going to cost or what you think some of those other externalities are worth, but when you do that and then you run the model looking for the least-cost resources, what's coming out of the models right now is wind.

FLATOW: As being the...

Mr. STEUERWALT: And a lot of it.

FLATOW: Well if it's only four to seven cents a kilowatt-hour, that's cheaper than what I'm paying in my house for my electric bill.

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: Well, and I think that that's, you know, utilities buy power probably cheaper than they sell it to us, but I think that that's true.

Today's costs, you know, for wind, there's no fuel required, there's no drilling, there's no mining, there's no emissions, there's no hazardous waste to clean up. So I think that that's why it's such an attractive option in many places where it can really compete.

FLATOW: But Kermit has a good point. What's the sense of putting all these wind turbines up if you can't hook them to anything? If you can't the power out of it, it's not in the grid, you know? How do we get to that, or jump over that hurdle? Where does that leadership come from?

Ms. JODZIEWICZ: Well, maybe Matt can talk a little bit about what is going on in the Northwest, but there's definitely a need for more transmission, not just for wind but there's a need for more electric transmission lines all over the country.

And there's a lot of planning and discussions going on. I'm not a transmission expert, but I know that that's a big part of the discussion, and transmission is really something that in the longer term I think the wind industry really needs. It's a big priority for us.

FLATOW: Matt?

Mr. STEUERWALT: We are doing a lot of work on that out here. Just this last week, the Power and Planning Conservation Council plus the Bonneville Power Administration, which owns 70 percent of the transmission in the region, announced that they were going to kick off a study to look specifically at the thing that Kermit's asked.

You know, how much wind can we put in the system, and how will it work? We have a huge advantage over a lot of places in the country because we have a hydro system that acts as a big battery so that when the wind isn't blowing, we can run the battery of the hydro system, and when the wind picks up, we can store more water.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. STEUERWALT: So we can shape that out nicely. Sorry about that.

FLATOW: No, I'm sorry, I walked on you. My problem - I wanted to see if I can get a quick question in from Iris in Topeka. Hi, Iris.

IRIS (Caller): Hi. I wanted to make a comment. The caller from Germany referred to wind turbines that were on a different axis and had scoops. They're called vertical-axis wind turbine, VAWT, and they apparently are advantageous over the other ones because number one, you can build them on much shorter towers, and number two, they can get power from much lower wind speeds. So they're a very nice mechanism.

FLATOW: Iris, are you a wind aficionado?

IRIS: Well, someday I would like to be, but I'm just doing some preliminary research. I can't afford to go and get anything set up at my house at this point, but they sure - the vertical-axis looks like it's going to be the way to go for the small person, for individual units.

FLATOW: Well, you're in Topeka and Kermit's in Spearville. Any advice, Kermit, you can give to Iris?

Mr. FROETSCHNER: Well, I don't know anything about those type. There used to be one south of Oklahoma City, 20 years ago, that looked like an egg-beater. I don't know whatever happened to that, but just the crane that's putting up the towers, it's 320-foot tall, and they have an odometer on top of it. Yesterday - or no, it was the day before - 10 mile an hour the wind was blowing on the ground. 300 feet up is was 31.

FLATOW: Wow.

Mr. FROETSCHNER: So I think you have to get up in our country to find the wind. So I think maybe height has its advantages, I think

FLATOW: All right, Kermit, I want to thank you and the rest of our panelists. Kermit Froetschner is a farmer and wind-power advocate in Spearville, Kansas. Kermit telling us it is easy being green. Kristin Thomas is staff attorney at the Sierra Club in San Francisco. Laurie Jodziewicz is communications and policy specialist at the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, Matt Steuerwalt, energy policy adviser to Governor Christine Gregoire at Washington State, and he was in Olympia, Washington. Thank you all for taking time to be with us today.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: