Windmills vs. Weapons: Bush’s Bungled Budget

March 1st, 2004 - by admin

by Paul F. deLespinasse / Corvallis Gazette-Times (Oregon) –

Shift from Dependence on Foreign Oil:
How Many Windmills Would $87 Billion Buy?

OREGON (February 5, 2004) — Nobody knows exactly how much the United States has spent so far on the war. [But try cost of war for the best, most careful research on this.] Meanwhile, it is a fact that Congress recently appropriated an extra $87 billion to support military operations for another year and rebuild Iraqi infrastructure.

Much of this money is now “sunk costs,” and we can’t “unspend” it. But the question naturally arises whether there might have been alternate projects on which this money could be spent, and whether these projects might have contributed more to US national security than overturning Saddam Hussein will do.

Our answers to these questions might provide guidance in deciding on future US foreign policy.

News reports about a projected wind farm in northeastern Oregon illustrate one interesting possibility here. Officials at Alpine Power Co. of Roseburg want to spend $23 million to install 51 windmills near La Grande.

Altogether, these windmills would generate some 92 megawatts of electricity. Assuming that they could be run about one-third of the time (full windpower is not always available), each windmill would produce about 5265 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.

How Many Windmills Would $87 Billion Buy?
How many windmills could we have built and how much pollution-free electricity could be generated by those windmills if we could have used just the extra $87 billion that was recently appropriated for Iraq?

At the costs projected by Alpine Power Co, $87 billion would buy 192,904 windmills. The total resulting electricity production, again assuming each windmill can run one-third of the time, would come to more than 1,015 billion kilowatt-hours per year. This amounts to more than a quarter of all US electricity consumption in 2000.

In 2000, burning coal generated 52 percent of our electricity. More than18 percent came from oil and natural gas, and about 20 percent came from atomic power stations. Burning coal, oil and gas puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which may contribute to potentially catastrophic global warming.

Atomic power stations pose their own problems (including the need for long-term storage of atomic waste) and may be attractive targets for terrorists.

Imported oil swells the US balance of payments problems, puts large sums into the hands of dubious foreign regimes and some of the money even gets diverted to supporting terrorist organizations.

Energy produced by one method often can substitute for energy from other sources. A great increase in electricity produced by windmills could reduce our dependency on hydrocarbon fuels and imports and increase our economic, military and environmental security.

Wind Power Is a Proven and Efficient Technology
Taking the world as a whole, windmill-generated electricity has been going up about 30 percent each year since 1995. It is beginning to become a serious business in many countries including the United States. But investing an extra $87 billion now and then could accelerate this desirable process considerably.

The fictional hero Don Quixote went around Europe “tilting at windmills,” a phrase that has become synonymous with engaging in noble but unrealistic efforts. However, building real windmills just might be worth thinking about. As we consider the opportunity, compare it to the cost of attacking and occupying Iraq, and the uses to which we could otherwise have put that money.

Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is professor emeritus of political science at Adrian College in Michigan.