Energy / News / News / Policy / Technology

Have wind farms reached a tipping point in America?

To be clear, I mean a metaphorical social-sciences style tipping point, not an everybody-run-from-the-falling-turbine type of tipping point.

The country’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island, which we recently reported on, will be generating electricity by 2016. It seemed the South remained the last holdout, but with the news that its first industrial scale wind project* will also be producing electricity by 2016 in North Carolina, America’s embrace of the industry seems to be growing.

The new wind farm in northeastern North Carolina, backed by Amazon and turbine developer Iberdrola, will be used to power Amazon’s cloud computing centers in Virginia and Ohio. [We’ll ignore the irony of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline transporting natural gas from Ohio to North Carolina while clean wind energy generated in North Carolina will be powering industry in Ohio.]

The former solely agricultural area of North Eastern North Carolina that will host the wind turbine farm to the tune of $50,000 for the first year. (x)

The former solely agricultural area of North Eastern North Carolina that will host the wind turbine farm to the tune of $50,000 for the first year. (x)

Amazon, along with other tech companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft, has committed to powering their online services and data centers with 100% renewable energy. With the addition of North Carolina’s wind project and others, Amazon will have over 1.3 million MWh of capacity – enough to power over 100,000 households.

It is at first surprising to me that it’s the tech giants who are most enthusiastically investing in renewable energy. But by the same token, it’s not surprising. They know from first-hand experience how profitable disruptive technology can be. They also know how fast the development of an industry like this can take hold, and how you have to be in on the ground floor if you want any chance at seeing those profits.

North Carolina seems poised to join the ranks of those states who have embraced wind farms as a viable source of renewable energy. It has already become a hub of wind turbine manufacturing, agriculturally-based biofuels, and solar farm establishment – the harvesting of wind energy will only be a facet of the “energy portfolio.” But speak to any expert, and they claim that this is the best solution – a diversification of all available energy assets. After all, a dependence on gasoline [preceded by coal, preceded by wood] is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Breakdown of installed wind capacity by state. Notice anything weird about the Southeast? (x)

Breakdown of installed wind capacity by state. Notice anything weird about the Southeast? (x)

This state has always been a unique bird: in the last few election cycles it has slowly become one of the only swing states in the south (Florida’s not even the same species). With pockets of progressivism unlike any found in most of the region, North Carolina might be the best way to segue the industry into an area mostly opposed to divestment from fossil fuels. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, “In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.” I hope North Carolina is that place.

*There is one small development in Oak Ridge, TN but it remains at a small, stagnant 29 MW.

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