What’s become the largest gathering of the wind industry in the world is underway this week at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Windpower 2008 Conference & Exhibition is attracting Governor Rick Perry, Mayor Bill White, representatives from several federal agencies, General Wesley Clark and officials from various wind-related manufacturers and project developers. Randall Swisher is with the American Wind Energy Association.
“Well, we’re certainly seeing, you know, growth within the industry, where, you know, simply within this organization, we’ve had almost 400 new businesses join the association in the first five months of this year. The American Wind Energy Association is the national trade association representing everyone within the wind community, from the manufacturers to project developers to the electric utilities that receive the power, consultants, lawyers, investors, component suppliers and academics, as well. There’s been a real rush of investment to this industry, again from major energy and financial interests around the world. This industry’s going to play an increasingly important role with every year into the future.”
Swisher says 20 percent of Denmark’s electrical needs are provided by wind power.
“They’ve definitely been leaders but you know, at this point it’s really been a global industry with companies based in Denmark, German, Spain, India, China and the U.S., all playing active leadership roles. Ed: “Of course, the profile of wind power has increased, but how big a role do you suspect it could provide in the future?” “Well, wind power is only providing one percent of the nation’s electricity right now. But the U.S. Department of energy just came out with a technical report that demonstrated that wind could provide as much as 20 percent of the nation’s electricity within the 2030 time frame. Over one-third of the new electricity added to the U.S. electric system last year came from wind power—second only to natural gas. So it’s become a significant player.”
Windpower 2008 features a job fair, as well as more than 765 exhibitors. They range from turbine manufacturers, meteorologists, project developers and others. Exhibits spill outdoors on to Discovery Green.
Intel and Houston-based Schlumberger have committed to helping Russia create a $720 million research and development complex in Siberia. Technopark is a late 50s Cold War-era research complex in a scientific community called Academy Town near Siberia’s capital. In 2005, former President Vladimir Putin asked the regional government to convert the community into a technology zone, with tax breaks and other incentives to encourage investment and innovation. Some 200 companies are expected to be housed, ranging in products from software to pharmaceuticals. Construction is expected to be complete by 2015.
An industry survey says nearly half the American air travelers questioned would fly more except for all the hassle. More than a fourth of the respondents to the Travel Industry Association survey said they have skipped at least one air trip in the past 12 months because of all the hassles. The group estimates that means 41 million fewer trips at a cost to the travel industry of about $18 billion. That figure includes more than $9 billion to the airlines and $5.5 billion to hotels. The survey did not address whether travelers chose alternate transportation for any the trips they didn’t take by plane. The Travel Association’s president says the research “should be a wake-up call to America’s policy leaders that the time for meaningful air system reform is now.”
Publishers expect book sales to stay flat for at least the next few years. The Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit organization supported by the publishing industry, projects a three percent to four percent growth through 2011, when revenues should top $43 billion. The BISG report expects little change in the actual number of books sold and sees a drop in the general trade market by more than 60 million, from 2.282 billion copies in 2007 to 2.220 billion in 2011. The findings were announced at BookExpo America, being held this weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Senior researcher Albert Greco believes that barring another Potter-like phenomenon, the children’s market will barely break even. Modest gains are projected in most adult categories. The biggest losers likely will be mass market paperbacks, which continue to plunge as baby boomers seek formats with larger print, while religious books should keep growing, by more than five percent annually.
Matthew Rose stood before fellow industry leaders and pointing to a map illustrating what he says is the future of the U.S. rail freight network. It was drenched in red–east to west, north to south. The chief executive of the Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad said the blotches illustrated areas where, by 2035, traffic jams could be so severe trains would grind to a halt for days with nowhere to go. Freight congestion around the nation is becoming a serious problem, and the damage to the U.S. economy could climb into the billions of dollars. Congestion along the nation’s 140,000-mile network is bad enough as it is now. But an analysis by the Associated Press found it could get much worse. That’s because demand for freight trains is expected to double over the next 25 years, although the system’s capacity is already reaching its limits. The higher shipping costs that result could raise prices for everything from lumber to grain. One analyst says the rail crunch could add thousands of dollars to the price of a car. Another transportation analyst, Paul Bingham, says the train congestion could lead to economic “calamity.”
Some facts about the U.S. rail freight system: The first North American railroad was chartered by Baltimore merchants in 1827. The Golden Age of Railroads began around 1865, when there was about 35,000 miles of track. It peaked in 1916 at 250,000 miles. As the trucking industry boomed in the 1950s, there was a rash of bankruptcies in the railway industry, lasting into the 1970s. Deregulation in the 1980s forced scores of mergers and helped bring the industry back. Today, trains move more than two billion tons of freight a year on 140,000 miles of track, nearly all of it privately owned and maintained. Coal accounts for more than 40 percent of all freight transported by train. In 1929, the average freight train had around 50 cars, with about 800 tons of freight. Trains now are far more efficient. An average train has about 70 cars and carries more than 3,000 tons of freight. Railway companies employ nearly 200,000 people; the average salary is around $70,000. Texas has the largest number of rail freight workers, about 17,000, followed by Illinois, which employs about 13,000; Nebraska is third, with around 11,000 (according to 2005 figures). Nine companies account for more than 90 percent of all North American railway revenue, or more than $50 billion. The five largest are Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation and Canadian National Railway.
Starbucks is opening its first store in Argentina, offering beverages tailored to local tastes. Starbucks Latin America President Buck Hendrix says the Seattle-based chain will offer Argentines a coffee drink made with “dulce de leche,” the traditional caramel-style cream. There will also be a milky “mate” latte based on the tea-like infusion popular there. Plans call for Starbucks to open as many as four stores there by year’s end. Starbucks already has coffee stores in seven Latin American countries including Chile and Brazil.
The hurricane season began Sunday. Still mindful of Hurricane Katrina, officials are warning residents of the Gulf Coast of the dangers of flooding. They note it takes only one storm to cause major flood damage. FEMA says flood insurance is a critical part of being properly prepared for the six-month hurricane season. But flood policies typically take a month to go into effect. Alabama, for instance, has been hit by three major Gulf hurricanes since 2004. And the average flood insurance claim in the state over that period was more than $56,000. Despite the risks, FEMA says most Alabama residents still don’t have flood insurance. Last year, a-quarter of all flood claims came from people in areas considered to be at low or moderate risk.
Robyn Worthen’s work depends on the weather. But she says from behind the counter of Galveston’s Aunt Margies Bait Camp that she doesn’t put much faith in the long-range forecasts calling for an active hurricane season. Like many Galvestonians who proudly call themselves “BOI” or “born on the island”–Worthen puts more stock in local storm watchers. Those watchers will be on guard after the hurricane season officially begins this weekend. Widely publicized hurricane forecaster William Gray is calling for a “well above average” Atlantic storm season this year, including four major storms among 15 named storms. The Colorado State University researcher says there’s a better than average chance that at least one major hurricane will hit the United States. Such forecasts might worry some who fear catastrophes akin to the devastating 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But they tend to roll off the backs of folks on the island. The only hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. last year hit just up the coast, sparing Galveston but sloshing ashore as a minimal Category 1 storm at High Island. That’s about midway between Galveston and Port Arthur. For Galvestonians, Hurricane Alicia in 1983 is the last big storm to leave an impression. It was the only major hurricane that year, making landfall in August as a low Category 3 storm. But it left 21 people dead and more than $2.6 billion in damage to the Houston-Galveston area.