Emission Free: 5 Huge Renewable Energy Projects to Watch For

  • Published on April 23rd, 2009

A wind farm in Germany

In February, President Obama called for a doubling of the US renewable energy capacity within three years. Yesterday, Obama visited a wind energy company in Newton, Iowa and again emphasized the importance of new forms of power generation:

“Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.”

[social_buttons]With billions in stimulus dollars heading toward improving the electricity grid and building sustainable energy infrastructure, emission-free power may be coming to your neighborhood sooner than you think. Here are five of the biggest, most ambitious projects that are in the pipeline, both in the US and elsewhere.

Pickens Plan:

Oilman-turned-renewable energy prophet T. Boone Pickens hasn’t proposed a single wind project so much as an entire energy policy. He proposes investing about $1 trillion in building wind turbines and transmission lines through the windy center of the country, from Colorado to Illinois and the Dakotas to Texas, to eventually provide as much as 22 percent of US electricity from wind. The plan envisions natural gas as a backup to the wind and as a cleaner alternative for vehicles and power generation, and it is estimated that $300 billion per year that is usually spent on importing oil could be saved. Some of the opposition to the plan comes from concern over the ecological impacts of thousands of wind turbines and transmission lines, as well as the ever-present NIMBY problem: Not In My BackYard.

Mojave Solar Park:

Israeli company Solel has been contracted to build a massive solar plant in the Mojave Desert in California, where 1.2 million mirrors will eventually produce up to 553 megawatts of power. Using solar thermal parabolic troughs to collect the sun’s energy, the project will cover about nine square miles of the desert. Pacific Gas & Electric has already contracted to purchase power generated at Mojave Solar Park, and the solar plant is scheduled to be online by 2011.

Cape Wind:

This controversial $900 million project involves the construction of 130 wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts, in Nantucket Sound. With a peak capacity of 420 megawatts, the turbines would produce about 75 percent of the required electricity for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket combined. The proposal has been beset by problems for years, though, with opposition regarding potential impacts to birds and marine life around the turbines. The Massachusetts Audubon Society has ruled it to be safe for birds, though, and some say the issues stem more from the unwillingness of wealthy landowners—such as Robert F. Kennedy and family—to have their ocean view cluttered with windmills. NIMBY indeed. Last year the latest legal hurdles were cleared, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

Three Gorges Dam in China

Grand Inga Dam, Democratic Republic of the Congo:

There are already two major dams along the Congo river providing small amounts of power, but this massive project, could eventually produce 39 gigawatts of power. Even at the current growth rates for the African continent, this means the dam could supply about 20 percent of all electricity used in Africa. The dam itself is estimated to cost about $80 billion, with billions more needed for electricity infrastructure to bring the power into the grid. Critics of the project say the dam will not provide the continent’s poor with power or any other benefit, and dams come with their own special set of horrific environmental damages. Scheduled to come online between 2020 and 2025, the Grand Inga would be the largest hydroelectric facility in the world, doubling the output of the pictured Three Gorges Dam in China.

CEZ Fântânele Wind Farm, Romania:

Romania has the biggest wind potential in southeastern Europe, and a pair of projects currently under construction will produce 600 MW of electricity once completed. The wind farms, which will cost more than $1 billion, will most likely be completed in 2011 and will power more than 400,000 homes. In 2009 Romania is slated to add more than 1,000 MW of wind power to its capacity, up from less than 100 MW in recent years.

Images: Three Gorges Dam courtesy of The Pocket on flickr via a Creative Commons license. Solar panels image courtesy of kjkolb, wind farm image courtesy of Philipp Hertzog on Wikimedia Commons.

About the Author

Dave is a science writer focusing on science, health and the environment. You can find other examples of his work at davelevitan.com. Follow him on Twitter @davelevitan.

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