Renewable energy resources: the West is best

Map produced by National Renewable Energy Laboratory for U.S. Department of Energy

James Wimberley over at The Reality Based Community takes a look at the geographic distribution of solar, wind and geothermal sites in this country, using some nifty maps from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and considers some implications, including political ones.

Take my three resources, together more than enough to meet all US energy needs. The overall picture is clear. Colorado has everything. South and West of Colorado has solar. North-East of Colorado (the Plains) has wind. The Rockies have geothermal. The Northeast has nothing apart from offshore wind (which generates temporary construction jobs but not rents).

Many of the best locations for renewable energy installations are concentrated in red states, which Mr. Wimberley believes may account for their relatively slow development in this country. However he is confident that will change once residents realize how their state can benefit from the rents from such installations.

Iowa now gets 20% of its electricity from wind, almost at the Danish level. When Iowa farmers look at wind turbines, they don’t see a visual nuisance blocking the noble horizons of the Plains, they see the wings of busy geese laying golden eggs of rent. Politicians can no more oppose tax credits for wind energy in Iowa than the boondoggle of subsidies for ethanol.

I do think he is too sanguine about the future of geothermal, especially if something called “hot dry rock fracking” is required to maximize output. If an admittedly different form of fracking has apparently caused earthquakes in historically stable areas like Ohio and Oklahoma, I’m nervous about it being used in California.