Ireland to Build World's Largest Wind Farm

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At peak production the wind farm would crank out 420 megawatts—enough to power about half a million homes.

"Horseshoe Shoal is an ideal environment for a wind farm," said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates. The area gets some of the strongest offshore winds in the U.S., is out of fishing and shipping routes, and is five miles (eight kilometers) offshore—almost out of sight.

Should the project go ahead, Cape Wind Associates expects to be generating power by 2005.

"Everyone loves wind," said Gordon. "But when it comes to building wind farms, no one wants them in their backyard."

The wind turbines look like enormous airplane propellers mounted on tall metal poles that rise out of the ocean. Once the blade is mounted, the turbines reach a height of 130 meters (426 feet). The Cape Wind farm with its 170 turbines is expected to occupy an area of 25 square miles (65 square kilometers).

Brian Parsons of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, believes that 5 percent of the country's energy demands could be met with wind power by 2020. "But it would be a big challenge," he said.

Swisher agrees: "We could supply 6 percent of the energy needs by 2020, and that's a conservative estimate assuming the current growth rate continues and it's business as usual.

"And we could easily do twice as much if environmental issues become more of a concern," said Swisher.

However, the wind industry will be hard-pressed to have such explosive growth this year. A key incentive, the federal wind production tax credit, which expired December 31, was not renewed. Bills to renew the PTC are in negotiations.

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