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A Mighty Wind

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The 2007 February issue of Outside featured a fun read on one small Danish island's efforts to be energy independent. People reading this site will probably find little surprising in the article, but it is a fun weekend read.

Geopolitics also played a part. In 1973, OPEC imposed an oil embargo against the U.S. and the Netherlands for supporting Israel's war against Syria and Egypt, and nearly quadrupled the price of petroleum for everyone else. The U.S. at the time imported about 35 percent of its oil; Denmark imported more than 90 percent. Keenly aware of their vulnerability, the Danes spent the next 30 years figuring out how to secure an energy-independent future, all without nuclear power, which parliament outlawed in 1982.

Now, remarkably, Denmark is about 150 percent self-sufficient. A net exporter of energy—most of it oil and natural gas from the North Sea—it also sells wind power to it neighbors.

The American response to the embargo, by comparison, was more of a cheap-oil-is-our-birthright hissy fit. In the late 1970s and early '80s, to be fair, the U.S. launched some serious alternative-energy schemes, complete with tax credits and federal funding for renewables, and for a brief moment California actually became the king of wind power. Then, during the Reagan era, federal and state subsidies expired, making it impossible for wind and solar to compete with oil and coal. Today, the U.S. imports nearly double the oil that it did in 1973—or about 60 percent of what it consumes. Wind power makes up less than 1 percent of the American electricity pie.