Electric Utilities' Concerns With the Department of Energy's Wind Energy Program

EMD-81-77: Published: Apr 21, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 1981.

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The Wind Energy Systems Act of 1980 established an 8-year program of research, development, demonstration and technology applications for converting wind into electricity and mechanical energy. GAO conducted a survey of the wind energy program of the Department of Energy (DOE). The survey identified a number of needs and concerns which electric utilities have relative to the program. Some of the concerns are similar to those identified in previous reviews of other renewable energy programs. Because of the important role the electric utility industry will play in the ultimate widespread use of wind energy and the need to make the most effective use of limited program funds, it is important that these concerns be considered. The needs and concerns of the electric utilities are especially relevant in view of increased prospects of limited funds for the program.

The utility industry generally agrees with DOE's basic strategy for developing wind energy. The strategy calls for researching, developing, and demonstrating a series of progressively more efficient and reliable machines, methodically studying ways to reduce costs until wind energy reaches a level competitive with conventional fuels, and then providing incentives to stimulate the use of wind energy. The utility companies surveyed are, however, concerned by the pessimistic outlook for DOE attaining its program goals, the need for more emphasis on a successful demonstration and less emphasis on complex machines, the questionable usefulness of the wind energy resource assessment portion of the program, and the need for better information dissemination on wind energy. The program goals may result in the installation of many wind machines which are not market-ready. Credibility of wind energy may be lost by pushing machines which are uneconomical, not reliable, unsuitable for utility use, and otherwise unattractive to potential buyers and users. A successful demonstration of a large wind machine would be the most important step DOE could take to advance the use of wind energy. The utilities believe that funds for the wind resource assessment could be better spent by supporting site specific wind surveys for those utilities that express interest in investigating the potential of wind energy in their respective service areas.

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