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Winds of change blowing in U.S. energy production

Samuel W. BodmanU.S. secretary of energy

Every year, Earth Day reminds us of our responsibility to the land – to care for it, preserve its beauty and treat all of nature with respect. But this year, I’d also like to steer our Earth Day thoughts toward thoughts of America’s energy future.

One of mankind’s oldest sources of energy is the wind. From almost the beginning of civilization, people have been harnessing air currents to sail ships and operate devices powered by windmills.

But rather than operating devices like pumps for a family farm’s well-water, these towering structures are making enough electricity to power thousands of homes, schools, factories and businesses.

Wind energy is one of the cleanest ways we have of producing electric power. And, thanks to advances in technology, wind power is also one of our fastest-growing sources of renewable energy. U.S. wind-power capacity has more than doubled, and the Great Plains states stand out as America’s most promising areas for producing even more electricity from wind.

Increasing America’s use of clean, renewable energy sources like wind power is one of the priorities of President Bush’s National Energy Policy, to strengthen our country’s energy independence and lessen energy production’s effect on the environment.

From 1998 to 2003, wind generation in America has been growing at an average annual rate of about 25 percent. As a result of research and development efforts, many led by the Department of Energy, the efficiency of wind power systems has increased, and the cost to generate wind power has declined to become more competitive with power produced from traditional sources such as coal and natural gas.

By supplying a significant portion of our energy needs with wind power, the United States can supplement the use of these other domestic resources and eliminate significant amounts of pollution.

The Department of Energy also strives to educate Americans and encourage the use of wind power as a viable energy option through our Wind Technologies Program. While considerable progress has been made in making wind-power production more efficient, practical and cost-effective, energy legislation currently being considered by Congress contains provisions to further enhance the prospects of this important technology.

That is why it is so important for Congress to pass a comprehensive energy bill this year.

This legislation supports the development of wind power, in addition to addressing a broad range of other energy issues that are critical to our nation’s economic future, such as increasing conservation and efficiency efforts and modernizing our energy infrastructure that will make blackouts less likely. President Bush has called on Congress to pass energy legislation for four years, while prices for gasoline and natural gas have continued to climb. Four years of congressional debate is enough; it is now time to act.

In fact the House passed the energy bill this week. By passing this critical legislation, members of Congress now commemorate Earth Day in a way that will have a positive, long-term impact on Americans and our environment.

I hope this Earth Day will serve a reminder that we must continually recommit our efforts to the preservation of our energy resources. We must act wisely by developing more energy options in this country to ensure the best quality of life possible for our children and grandchildren. By advancing the development of efficient and renewable energy sources like wind power, and encouraging energy conservation, we will move closer toward the goal of a sound energy future.

n Samuel W. Bodman is the U.S. secretary of energy.