We are a nation rich in wind energy potential. The earth is awash with a sea of fluid energy. Swaddled in an atmosphere of swirling winds, from zephyrs to gale-force tree snappers, the earth feels the energy of the sun translated into the fluid dynamics of wind on a daily basis. When we see the Kansas wheat fields rippling in a fifteen-mile-an-hour westerly, we are seeing air rushing from a high-pressure area created by the sun's heat into a low-pressure area that is not so warm. When our caps are blown off in New York City by a gust rushing up Fifth Avenue, we are the victims of the serendipity of an unequal distribution of energy from the sun that created different pressures in the atmosphere above the Atlantic.
When sailors harnessed wind energy in their sails centuries ago to traverse the globe, they learned to take advantage of atmospheric pressure differences caused by the sun. When Dutch farmers turned those sails to the task of making mechanical energy to grind their grain, the windmill was born. But wind energy is not merely a product of poetry, a quaint natural phenomenon fit only for powering eighteenth-century sailing ships and ancient Dutch windmills.
Wind is powerful because of a simple fact of physics. Any moving fluid's force increases with its increasing speed—not linearly, but exponentially. A four-mile-an-hour wind has four times, not twice, as much energy as a two-mile-an-hour wind. Anyone who has ridden a bicycle and felt the benefits of catching the slipstream of the leading rider knows this principle well. Tremendous energy is swirling about us just for the taking. In fact, wind potential is one of our nation's most abundant energy resources; fully a quarter of our land area possesses winds strong enough to generate electricity at a price competitive with today's prices of natural gas. Just three states—North Dakota, Texas, and Kansas—together have the theoretical capacity to produce enough energy to meet the nation's entire current electricity needs. While just at the beginning of its development, wind already supplies enough energy to power the needs of 2.3 million U.S. households.
Today in America, a wind energy industry is springing up, ready to exploit the tremendous potential. The westerly winds blowing across the Plains states that drove the sodbusters nearly to distraction in the 1800s are now powering those dirt farmers' descendants' turbines, and the wind energy industry is emerging as perhaps the most rapidly rising star in America's clean-energy firmament. From the dry hills of eastern Washington to the Badlands of the Dakotas, farmers are using the wind that formerly just pollinated their crops to grow a new cash crop: electricity. From Iowa's Spirit Lake Community School District to the town of Hull, Massachusetts, local governments are funding services with new revenues from the wind, and in each case creating jobs.
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