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Pioneer Editorial: Sierra Club blows wind at Pentagon

With the price of gasoline hovering ever nearer to $3 a gallon, fueling fears that it might translate to sky-high energy costs come winter, we need to redouble efforts to seek alternative forms of renewable energy. And, hopefully, they can be developed with encouragement, without being fettered with unnecessary bureaucracy.

Especially the bureaucracy that comes with the military.

An effort to develop wind energy, including in Minnesota, has been stymied by the Pentagon as it studies whether the large wind turbines may disrupt its radar operations. It seems a stretch, but OK, it shouldn't take that long to study. Especially in Minnesota, which isn't exactly on the front line of the nation's radar defense system.

The Pentagon was given a May deadline to complete its study which, of course, given military bureaucracy, wasn't done by the deadline and no end in sight. Meanwhile, more than a dozen wind farm projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota are on hold awaiting the Pentagon's blessing that they won't fall within the "radar field-of-view" of long-range air defense systems.

The environmental activist group, the Sierra Club, however has decided to call the Pentagon's bluff and dive head-long into the military's red tape. The Sierra Club on Wednesday filed suit against the Department of Defense in a federal court, alleging the department is solely holding up construction of the wind farm projects, putting their success in jeopardy.

Alternative energy sources haven't always been the least expensive energy, but as oil prices soar, alternative renewable energy becomes more and more viable. But developers of wind energy need a push to get going, such as ethanol producers needed subsidies to get off the ground floor, subsidies that should end as ethanol production becomes profitable with expanded markets.

Delayed construction of wind farms could make developers ineligible for federal tax credits available until the end of 2007, making it just that much more difficult to develop clean, renewable energy sources to help the nation wean itself from foreign oil dependency.

Wind energy has promise -- especially since wind became the second greatest source of new power generated in the United States last year, after natural gas, according to a survey by the American Wind Energy Association. Some 5,000 wind turbines are proposed across the nation.

With Minnesota utilities obligated under state law to begin using some form of alterative energy sources to generate power, roadblocks need to be removed from their development.

If it takes a lawsuit from the Sierra Club to do it, so be it.