The nation’s wind has the potential to produce 50 percent more power than previously believed, based on a new map compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy.

This bodes well for New Jersey’s mainland communities, which may have considered their air too calm to capitalize on this renewable resource.

The agency’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory used wind records from 1,600 monitoring stations across the country and took into consideration advancements in turbines to calculate the nation’s raw wind power. The new map shows the United States can produce 37 million gigawatt hours annually. In comparison, all electricity generation from nuclear to coal produced just 4 million gigawatt hours last year.

New Jersey is looking to generate 1,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2013, a fraction of the state’s 373 gigawatt hours of wind potential identified in the report. And that does not include New Jersey’s mother lode of offshore wind.

“It’s a rough guide. It’s not intended to say, ‘Stick your turbine here,’” laboratory spokesman George Douglas said. “It’s also intended to say, ‘Look, we’ve got this potential in the country if we decide to use it.’”

The last map compiled by the agency in 2003 based its estimates on windmills standing 164 feet, but windmills have gotten much bigger and more efficient in the past five years. The 2010 map measures wind at 262 feet, the height of the five Atlantic County Utilities Authority turbines in Atlantic City. (The blades add another 118 feet.)

Local upgrades

 Predictably, taller windmills benefit from more wind. Where mainland communities such as Woodbine, Estell Manor and Lacey Township were categorized in the 2003 map as poor wind producers, they got a bump to “marginal” in the new one.

Places such as Cape May, Fortescue on the Delaware Bay and Little Egg Harbor Township in Ocean County were upgraded from fair to good on the new map.

“It expands the economic viability of wind beyond what was thought of before in New Jersey. It will encourage wider geographic consideration of wind,” ACUA Director Rick Dovey said.

Windmill manufacturing has improved immensely in recent years, Dovey said, providing composite materials that can withstand the rigors of the same harsh elements they are trying to harness.

“There have been some engineering improvements. The turbine blades are stronger,” he said. “The logistics of building larger turbines has improved.”

The Atlantic Ocean is the windiest part of New Jersey, but the windiest parts of the United States are in the Great Plains between Texas and North Dakota. Dovey said the challenge with wind has always been capturing it closest to population centers. So windy stretches of Wyoming and Montana will probably remain untapped for years to come.

The tiny borough of Ocean Gate in Ocean County erected a 120-foot windmill in November to power its municipal building.

Mayor Paul Kennedy said he was convinced of the state’s wind potential the first day he saw the blades spin.

“You don’t see our flags flapping on their 12-foot pole, but the turbines will be spinning. It’s amazing,” he said.

Now, nearby Beachwood has installed a wind gauge on its water tower in hopes of duplicating Ocean Gate’s project, Kennedy said.

“Everyone said west of the Garden State Parkway, you wouldn’t get the wind. There’s definitely enough wind here,” he said.

Thrill of the wind

 New Jersey’s wind potential is limited by its distinction as the nation’s most densely populated state. Just 16 square miles or one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s land area is suitable for new windmills, the federal report says.

But that is not stopping some local entrepreneurs from taking advantage of the state’s cool breezes.

Bill Catanoso, co-owner of the Steel Pier on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, plans to erect windmills at the amusement park. The turbines would stand about 230 feet tall, including the blades.

The park would be the first in the country to power its thrill rides with the wind.

“We hope within a few years to become carbon-neutral and have excess energy sold off to the grid,” Catanoso said. “Wind potential is incredible. People don’t really know.”

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