With the price of foreign oil currently hovering around $40 per barrel and threatening to go higher, it's not surprising that talk is turning to alternative energy sources as it did following the 1973 oil crisis.
Proponents are in the nation's capital extolling wind power's potential for supplying a large chunk of the nation's electricity. The gathering includes some 300 engineers, consultants, manufacturers, scientists and visionaries seeking a sympathetic ear in Congress.The group is asking to have wind power exempted from proposed energy taxes now being considered in Congress. And they would like President Bush to heed the Energy Department's suggestion for a 2 cents per kilowatt hour subsidy on wind-generated power.
The group laid out strong arguments for more federal interest. A study by Pacific Northwest Laboratories indicates 1.5 percent of the land area of the 48 contiguous states generates usable winds averaging 16 miles per hour at a level 50 meters above the Earth's surface. These winds are presently turning 15,000 turbines in California to produce 2.2 billion kilowatts of power annually. The most compelling argument is the environmental benefit - no pollution of any kind.
Unfortunately, wind power and its cousin, solar power, cannot entirely solve the energy crisis. While they could help immensely in meeting the nation's growing demand for electricity, they provide little hope in meeting an equally great need for fuel. Cars, trucks, jet airplanes, ocean going ships and other fuel-powered vehicles are critical to world commerce.
The United States should begin development of other oil-related alternatives such as oil shale and tar sands. Research in these areas came to a virtual standstill as Middle East oil fields increased production in the early 1980s, production that led to a worldwide oil glut in recent years.
Along with wind and solar power development, the United States should look at alcohol-based fuels. With an ongoing surplus of grain available to develop alcohol-based fuels, the time is right to increase development and promote production of alcohol-based fuels. And, though it remains unpopular with the general public, nuclear power also needs further consideration.
And don't forget conservation. Simply reducing use of gasoline is perhaps the best quick fix alternative for the short-term. Unfortunately, it will not provide a total long-term solution.