Wind Energy

Locations of the 400+ U.S. Wind-Related Manufacturing Facilities and Number of Wind Industry Jobs per State

Locations of the 400+ U.S. Wind-Related Manufacturing Facilities and Number of Wind Industry Jobs per State

Source: (AWEA 2011) U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2010

A typical 250 MW wind farm (around 100 turbines) will create 1,073 jobs over the lifetime of the project

Wind power is an affordable, efficient and abundant source of domestic electricity. It's pollution-free and cost-competitive with energy from new coal- and gas-fired power plants in many regions. The wind industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. In 2011 alone, 3,464 turbines went up across the United States, and today, American wind generates enough electricity to power more than 11 million homes, creates steady income for investors and landowners, and provides manufacturing, construction and operation jobs for at least 75,000 Americans. A typical 250 MW wind farm (around 100 turbines) will create 1,073 jobs over the lifetime of the project. And by generating additional local and state tax revenues from lease payments, wind farms also have the potential to support other community priorities, such as education, infrastructure, and economic development.[1]

In some months, wind energy provides more than 6 percent of our nation's electricity, and experts estimate that in the future, wind energy could realistically supply five times that amount -- 30 percent or more of our electricity needs.[2] Still, wind turbines and transmission systems need to be sited carefully to minimize their impacts on wildlife and the landscape.

How Wind Energy Works

The wind's kinetic energy can be harnessed by a wind turbine. The wind moves the turbine's blades, which transfer energy through a central hub to a generator. The generator converts this mechanical energy into electrical energy that is then delivered to the power grid.

Watch the video from The Science Channel on how it works: Deconstructed: How Wind Turbines Work >>

How Much Wind Energy Costs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost of wind energy has come down 85 percent in the last 20 years. As of 2010, top performing wind farms in areas with excellent wind resources had costs averaging about 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, making wind the most cost competitive source of non-hydroelectric renewable electricity. Major federal incentives for wind energy include a tax credit for the power a wind turbine generates over its first ten years of operation. This production tax credit expires at the end of 2012, and could take 37,000 renewable energy jobs with it if Congress fails to renew it.[3]

Advantages of Wind Energy

There are more than 400 manufacturing facilities across the U.S. supplying some of the 8,000 components in a wind turbine

  • Wind energy produces no polluting emissions of any kind, including those that cause global warming.
  • Wind turbines use a fuel that's free, inexhaustible and immune from the drastic price swings to which fossil fuels are subject.
  • With careful siting and outreach to the local community, wind farms can be built in a fraction of the time it takes to construct coal or natural-gas power plants. A 50-megawatt wind farm can be completed in less than a year.
  • In the right location, it takes only three to eight months for a wind energy farm to recoup the energy consumed by its building and installation -- one of the fastest "energy payback times" of any energy technology on the market.
  • Although bird and bat safety are ongoing concerns, wind power does not contribute to the plethora of other environmental and public health costs caused by conventional fossil power production: acid rain in lakes, mercury in fish, particulate-matter respiratory illnesses, coal mine slag, nuclear waste fuel storage, and so on. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that electricity generation from coal, oil-fueled vehicles and transportation, and electricity production from natural gas caused an estimated $120 billion in damages in 2005, with health-related damages accounting for almost all of these costs.
  • The growing use of wind energy creates manufacturing and technical jobs, and significantly more jobs per dollar invested compared to non-renewables technology, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • Wind power consumes no water during operation. This will be an increasingly important attribute as the water-energy nexus grows in importance and as water use becomes an increasingly important facet of defining sustainability.

What's Around the Corner for Wind Energy

Texas was the first U.S. state to surpass the 10,000 MW mark for installed wind capacity, at the end of 2010

  • New technologies are being developed for use in low-wind areas and offshore. Engineers are creating new blade designs, more efficient turbines and ocean mooring systems to produce economical wind energy in regions like the American heartland, stretching from central Texas to the Canadian border, and coastal areas from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod. In addition, new technologies to drive our power grid will allow us to make better use of our existing grid so that we can minimize the impact of the transmission lines needed to deliver wind power to our cities.
  • Costs will fall to compete with the cheapest traditional energy sources, such as natural gas, even in low-wind areas. The US Department of Energy aims to bring the cost of land-based wind energy down by 18% and the cost of offshore wind energy down by 63 percent by 2020.
  • Wind power will expand to meet a much larger portion of U.S. energy demand. Experts at the National Renewable Energy Lab, a federal research lab, show that wind energy could supply 30 percent of the nation's electricity without any additional technologies and forthcoming studies will evaluate even higher fractions of wind on the grid.
  • A national standard to promote clean, renewable energy could facilitate the development of affordable wind capacity by requiring utilities to include a certain percentage of clean energy resources in their electricity mix. This would provide the stable policy framework needed to sustainably grow wind into a significant fraction of our country’s energy supply. According to the Department of Energy, a renewable standard of 20 percent -- combined with efficiency programs -- could save consumers billions of dollars.
  • Bird and bat safety must be fully addressed. The wind industry has made great strides in locating wind farms to prevent harming birds in flight; now attention is turning toward bats. Project developers must work with local bird and bat experts to avoid migration routes, and use new technologies to help flying creatures steer clear of turbines. Future innovations should make this even easier.
  • Limitations to the capacity of the current power transmission system will be addressed in two ways: by making our electricity use more efficient, and by expanding the system. Both need to be done carefully to minimize impacts to natural values and landscapes as well as to avoid creating incentives for new coal-burning plants.

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.

Learn More

American Wind Farms: Breaking Down the Benefits from Planning to Production
Shows that an average wind farm (250 MW) will create nearly 1,100 full-time equivalent jobs over its lifetime.
At Wind Speed: How the U.S. Wind Industry is Rapidly Growing Our Local Economies
A 2012 NRDC report with case studies showing the positive economic impacts and job gains to local communities resulting from wind power development.
2010 Wind Technologies Market Report
U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Published June 2011.
Wind Powering America
In-depth market information and wind technology developments from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
American Wind Energy Association: State Fact Sheets
This national trade association provides updated information on wind energy projects across the country, including state-by-state fact sheets.
Department of Energy Map of Wind Manufacturing & Supply Chain Facilities
Map of manufacturing facilities, searchable by state.

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