Swept Up In The Winds Of Change

Earlier this week, billionaire oil man T. Boone Pickens told CBS News anchor Katie Couric he thinks the United States could meet energy conservation goals in just 10 years - if cities turn to more wind power. So CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg went to one corner of Texas to do a Reality Check.



Jerry Tuttle is a new breed of cowboy.

"The whole desk-job thing - just not for me," he said.

His herd is hundreds of giant wind turbines.

Sieberg climbed with Tuttle nearly 300 feet in the air, so he could show off his "penthouse" office.

"This is a pretty amazing workplace," Sieberg said of the view.

"Look at it, look at it," Tuttle said. "I mean … it is what it is. It's amazing."

Tuttle keeps things humming at a massive farm in Sweetwater, Texas, with 3,200 turbines. Wind generates 3 percent of the electricity in Texas - more than in any other state.

"It's nice to know that … we are putting renewable energy down and with zero pollution," Tuttle said.

Companies are doing it big in Texas. But homeowners can do it small, in their own backyards.

"I don't screw up the environment. I save a few bucks," said personal windmill-owner Samuel Barr. "It's not a bad deal."

In Oneida, N.Y., Barr's personal windmill powers everything from his cappuccino machine to his kid's computer.

It cost $58,000, but the state picked up half the cost. Last month alone, he saved more than $200. His meter sometimes even spins backward.

"When we first put it up, I'd spend hours looking at this meter … in disbelief," Barr said.

The wind rush is on. Nine billion dollars was invested in new wind projects last year alone - that's 35 percent of alternative-energy investments.

But critics say it's mostly hot air.

"You're building, typically the projects way out in the middle of nowhere, long distances from the load centers," said Lisa Linowes of WindAction.org.

Indeed, the flat Midwest is where the country's wind blows the most - the so-called "wind alley."

But cities along the coast are where the majority of people live. So getting that power to the people would mean a massive, multi-billion-dollar grid restructuring.

Plus, winds die down in the summer, when demand is the highest. Some turbines have been known to kill migratory birds. And, not everyone welcomes such a sight in their backyard.

"When I first came to West Texas, it was just, y'know, cattle and oil rigs. That was it," Tuttle said.

Now?

"The sky's the limit," he said.

But even those swept up in the winds of change admit wind will only be one piece of the alternative-energy puzzle.
  • Daniel Sieberg

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