Winds are created by uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, irregularities of the Earth’s surface, and the rotation of the Earth. As a result, winds are strongly influenced and modified by local terrain, bodies of water, weather patterns, vegetative cover, and other factors. The wind flow, or motion of energy when harvested by wind turbines, can be used to generate electricity.
Water pumping windmills and small wind electric generators were once used throughout the United States. Rural electrification programs of the 1930’s and 1940’s largely replaced the need for these systems. Starting in the early 1980’s, Federal and State Government policies and incentives led to a revival in wind power generation. Even so, it remains a small faction of total electric capacity.
The oil shortages of the 1970s changed the energy picture for the country and the world. It created an interest in alternative energy sources, paving the way for the re-entry of the windmill to generate electricity. In the early 1980s wind energy really took off in California, partly because of state policies that encouraged renewable energy sources. Support for wind development has since spread to other states, but California still produces more than twice as much wind energy as any other state.
The world’s largest wind farm, the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas, has 421 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power 220,000 homes per year.Unlike power plants, many wind plants are not owned by public utility companies. Instead they are owned and operated by business people who sell the electricity produced on the wind farm to electric utilities. These private companies are known as Independent Power Producers.
Source: Energy Information Administration