Great article in this weeks Business Lexington on wind power in Kentucky. New maps of wind speed at higher elevations indicate that there is harvestable amounts of wind available in Kentucky. According to conservative estimates there is enough wind to generate over 100,000 Gigawatt Hours per year of electricity. Kentucky currently uses about 90,000 GWH per year, so theoretically there is enough wind to power the entire Commonwealth.
The article is at: http://www.smileypete.com/Articles-c-2010-07-08-93700.113117_Winds_of_Change.html
There are two concerns about wind and other renewable sources, like solar. First they are not available all the time, which coal certainly is. And second it currently costs more to generate wind, because it is a new technology.
Addressing the second issue first: coal is a finite resource, and as supplies decline price will increase. So at some point the price of coal power will be higher than the price of alternatives. It makes sense to start phasing in alternatives now, which will help with economies of scale and help bring down the cost.
As to the second issue, wind would be a suplement to coal until better batteries and other storage methods are found. Coal would still be available as a back up. Using wind would not immediatly replace coal. But as mentioned, coal is a finite resource and will eventually run out. Using alternatives now will reduce the use rate of coal, which will mean that the coal we have will last longer, and that will mean miners will employed longer.
Alternatives, like wind, are a win-win. They will reduce demand for coal, which will reduce polution and help stabilize prices, and they will create jobs in a new segment of the energy market. Not a bad deal.