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Remarks by Paul Gipe at the Dedication of EDON's Wind Plant at Eemshaven, the Netherlands

Article by: Paul Gipe

I’d like to express my thanks to Mr. Witvliet and Mr. Jans for the invitation to join you today. I feel a special fondness for this part of the Netherlands, and for the members of EDON’s board of directors.

Many years ago it seems now, I met them for the first time when they visited Tehachapi, California. Tehachapi has the world’s largest concentration of wind turbines and EDON was there to see how wind power plants had been developed in the United States.

Today EDON has no need to go to the United States to see how wind energy can be developed. EDON has built Europe’s largest wind power plant and they have done it with a care and sensitivity that we in the United States would be well advised to emulate.

With the completion of this wind plant, events have come full circle. The flow of visitors seeking information about wind energy has reversed. The intellectual, technical, and may I say “moral” momentum has shifted from the United States to Europe. We Americans are now visiting Europe to study how wind energy can be developed in harmony with the landscape and with the people who live nearby our wind plants.

I myself have just spent one month in Northern Europe studying the Dutch, German, and Danish wind energy programs. As an American it is first of all heartening to find that you here in the Netherlands, and your neighbors in Germany and Denmark not only have wind energy programs, but have extremely successful programs. This wind plant is a testament to that fact.

For the benefit of the US consul here today I’d like to point out that the Netherlands in 1996 set a national policy of providing 10% of the country’s entire energy supply from renewables by 2020. Wind energy is expected to supply 25% of that.

In contrast the U.S. has no energy policy, and its commitment to meeting its treaty obligations for reducing global warming gases is little more than several tons of reports and studies that will never be implemented. Here at Eemsmond is a real example of a nation’s and a peoples commitment to renewable energy.

Wind energy development in the Netherlands is a model for the world and especially for those of us in the United States.

The Netherlands is the world’s 5th leading developer of wind energy. It is the 3rd largest in Europe. And in terms of installed wind capacity per million inhabitants, the Netherlands is second only to Denmark. But most significantly this is only a beginning. In 1995 the installed wind capacity in the Netherlands increased by 65%, while in North America wind capacity actually declined. This year wind capacity in the Netherlands will increase by another one third and is expected to continue growing until the nation’s target of 1500 MW of wind turbines is reached in the year 2020.

Even then, the Netherlands will not have exhausted it’s wind energy potential. It will require only some 3000 more wind turbines to reach that objective. And with the 1000 already installed that will represent less than 1/2 the number of wind turbines that were operating in the Netherlands in the 18th century–when, I might add, the Netherlands was physically much smaller than today.

But wind energy is growing not just in the Netherlands, but all across Europe and now in Asia as well. Last year Europe surpassed North America in installed wind capacity and this year total wind capacity in Europe will be twice that in North America. At the current pace, wind development in India, yes, India, a third world country, will exceed that in the United States by the end of the decade.

Not since the wind was used to sail the world’s seas and pump water from the lowlands of Northern Europe has wind energy been used on such a grand scale as is now found in Europe. No longer will wind energy be seen as the domain of a disheveled miller with corn flour in his hair, furling the cloth sails on his wooden windmill. This archaic image has given way to that of trained professionals tending their sleek aero-electric generators by computer.

Wind energy has come of age not only for customers of electric utilities, but also for those who live beyond the end of utility lines. Wind now works for those like Ed Wulf, who installed a small wind turbine instead of extending the utility line to his home. And wind works for the women of Ain Tolba, who no longer have to fetch water several kilometers from their village in Morocco, now that modern wind turbines do the work for them. Today, wind energy is improving the quality of life for people around the globe.

The numbers are telling. Production of wind-generated electricity has risen from practically zero in the early 1980s to more than 7 TeraWatt-hours (TWh) in 1995. More than $1.5 billion of wind turbines were installed last year and in the world market may reach $2 billion this year. More than 20,000 people are employed in Europe building wind turbines or the components used in their manufacture.

Wind energy’s success, “forged in the crucible of California’s deserts” as the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Don Aitken poetically puts it, has pushed the technology beyond that of merely another “alternative.” It demonstrates that the technology works, that wind energy can produce sizable amounts of electricity, and that it is competitive. Though wind energy suffered severe growing pains, and struggled through a stormy adolescence during the 1980s, it is now ready to take its place alongside fossil and nuclear fuels as a conventional source of energy.

From the deserts of California to the shores of the North Sea, wind energy has come of age as a commercial generating technology. And regardless of what happens to these wind turbines, to the companies that built them, the wind will always blow across this polder: a clean source of energy for future generations.