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Author Philip Warburg says America can increase electric power output by 10 times over with wind. He spoke to a packed crowd Tuesday for Chicago Ideas Week.

Ten times U.S. electric power supply blowing in the wind

by Anthony Raap and Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
Oct 09, 2012


Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL

Tom Szaky looks at the potential of recycling to produce new products.

America could reap 10 times the country’s electric power from wind, said Philip Warburg, author of “Harvest the Wind: America’s Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability.”

And that figure would climb even higher, Warburg said, if offshore winds were harvested. Warburg spoke to a packed forum audience Tuesday.

America needs to develop wind power, shale gas and other alternatives in order to stabilize the climate and stimulate economic growth, environmental experts said Tuesday at the sustainable energy forum, “Energy: Scalable Solutions.”

The forum concentrated on green energy but experts noted sustainable solutions also would make the U.S. more energy independent. About 200 people attended the forum, held at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of Chicago Ideas Week, where Warburg and other speakers presented different concepts revolving around sustainable energy.

“The winds in this country are super abundant,” he said, particularly in what he called the Wind Belt, a region stretching from the Dakotas to Texas.

Besides increasing the energy supply, harvesting the wind also would be an economic boom, he said.

Building wind farms would create thousands of jobs, mainly in states that have been hit particularly hard by the recession, Warburg said.

Wind power also is cleaner and more efficient than coal, which Warburg called “devastating” to the environment because of the amount of carbon it emits into the atmosphere.

"The health effects are notorious, and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions spewed by these power plants is absolutely staggering and really jeopardizes the local climate that our children and grandchildren will inherit, said Warburg, a fomer attorney for the Environmental Law Institute.

Another alternative to coal is gas shale, or natural gas that is trapped inside shale rock. The gas is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process where drilling and injections of high pressure water and chemicals fracture the shale to release the gas.

George Crabtree, a professor of physics, electrical and mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the U.S. should replace coal with shale gas, which emits fewer carbon emissions.

Crabtree, a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, acknowledged that hydraulic fracturing is not perfect. There are contamination issues that need to be ironed out. But it’s a technology that is worth pursuing.

The key, Crabtree said, is to develop and refine these energy sources now, because it will take several decades before they can be fully implemented.

“If we make intelligent choices,” he said, “we can determine what society will look like 50 years from now.”

TerraCycle Inc. founder Tom Szaky spoke on the potential for recycling, upcycling and the commoditization of waste as a complement to the presentation's overarching theme of sustainability. The New Jersey company solicits recyclables and turns them into new products such as backpacks.