35 Percent Wind? No problem, lots of benefits!

There's a lot of excellent news out in the report the U.S. Department of Energy released last Thursday about the benefits of increased wind power deployment in the U.S. Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States shows that getting a mere 35 percent of our nation's electricity from wind power by 2050--we're currently at about 4.5 percent--creates a pretty impressive list of benefits for the country. More wind power means cheaper energy; hundreds of thousands of new jobs; public health improvements that can save more than 21,000 lives; and, climate benefits worth more than $400 billion in prevented damage and disaster. And get this: We can do it all at essentially no cost to consumers, the report says. (Electricity prices might increase by up to 1 percent by 2030, but decrease by 2 percent by 2050, the DOE finds.)

Members of Congress: This report should be required reading.

Without necessarily intending to, the report also shows that the now-expired Production Tax Credit for Wind Power and the also-expired Investment Tax Credit for the nascent offshore wind power industry are smart, cost-effective investments for all Americans. And that wind power can help states economically meet their commitments (and then some) under the EPA's Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. Really, the bigger we go with wind power, the better off we are as a nation, Wind Vision shows.

The DOE has a history of significantly underestimating how much renewable energy we can successfully deploy, and that history repeats itself here. In fact, we can go much bigger than 35 percent with wind. And we should, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is it can help us prevent significant climate disasters. Still, even at this relatively low, 35-percent level, the benefits of wind power, described below, are pretty staggering:

• Jobs, jobs, jobs: 600,000 of them, in fact. Especially good news from Wind Vision: Many of these jobs can buttress the nation's currently floundering manufacturing sector, creating good jobs for people who often have only high school degrees.

• Energy savings galore: The more wind power and, thus, less natural gas we use to generate electricity, the lower the price of natural gas overall. The result: a cumulative, $280 billion in energy savings due to decreased natural gas demand. Those saving add 2.3 cents in value to each kilowatt hour of wind power we generate. (Funny, that's the cost of the PTC.)

• Easier breathing: When wind power displaces dirty power from the grid, it significantly cuts the pollution that pours out of power-plant smokestacks. The 35 percent target will prevent not only 21,700 premature deaths. It will avert more than 10,000 asthma-induced emergency room visits and means asthmatic kids will attend almost 2.5 million more days of school. Overall, the public health benefits are valued at 0.9 cents per kilowatt hour.

• Rural development: Wind power helps keep rural communities intact by supporting land owners, and paying for vital public services like schools, police and fire protection. Getting 35 percent of the nation's electricity from the wind can mean $1 billion in annual land lease payments to land owners and more than $3 billion in annual property tax payments in rural communities.

• Water, water, everywhere: Generating electricity in conventional and nuclear power plants eats up huge amounts of the country's increasingly scarce water resources. (In fact, the power sector uses 6 percent of total U.S. water and is responsible for a full 41 percent of fresh water withdrawals.) Wind power doesn't need water, meaning we can cut the power sector's use of water by 23 percent and reduce fresh water withdrawals by 15 percent overall.

• A happier climate: With wind power at 35 percent, we can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12.3 gigatonnes by 2050. Those benefits are worth $400 billion in savings from fewer extreme weather events and disasters. And they boost the value of wind power by 3.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

The DOE Wind Vision report demonstrates all the benefits of deploying lots of pollution-free wind power. Federal support, like the PTC, more than pays for itself several times over. That's good news; Congress should take note.