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America's future wind web?

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With political winds blowing toward renewable energy, power-line proposals are popping up to carry wind power around the country. President Obama has said he wants to see renewable wind from the plains help power cities like Chicago. The US Department of Energy last year reported that the nation could harvest 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2020, much of it by tapping wind energy in places like South Dakota, which boasts the fourth best wind resource in the nation.

But to hook up to that steady 20- to 30-mile-per-hour breeze, the nation will need perhaps 15,000 miles of new transmission lines costing $80 billion, according to a new Joint Coordinated System Plan released Feb. 14, by the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), which coordinates regional power distribution.

“This is information we believe that our leaders need to consider as they begin work under a new administration and start defining our energy future,” John Bear, president of MISO said in a statement.

But grass-roots activists cite not only traditional “not-in-my-back-yard” (NIMBY) concerns about 150-to-200-foot-high towers, but question whether costs can be justified, compared with other renewable choices. As well, they note, such lines could carry far more “black electrons” from coal-fired power plants than green ones from wind.

A case in point involves Titan, which could one day be the largest wind farm in the world located in the middle of South Dakota. The Titan plan for 2,000 wind turbines generating 5,000 megawatts of power caused barely a ripple of media attention when announced last spring. Yet the plan to connect Titan to population centers – a $12 billion, 3,000–mile power line dubbed “Green Power Express” announced Feb. 9 – produced a gale of public attention among environmentalists.

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