Wind Energy Report Shows Great Opportunities for States Complying with Clean Power Plan

The American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry trade group, released its annual market report for 2015 yesterday.  And within it, great news about wind power in the U.S. and around the world abounds: The pollution-free technology is growing exponentially here, making up almost 5 percent of our power supply and creating a host of benefits that include substantially lower carbon emissions from the power sector, good-paying jobs, better public health, and payments to farmers and ranchers that are helping to keep families on their land and supporting much-needed public services in low-income, rural communities. 

But maybe the most important tidbit in the report is tucked away in the middle: Wind power offers states some of the best and most cost-effective options for complying with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. (It will cut carbon emissions from the nation's biggest polluter, the power sector, once the stay the Supreme Court imposed has been lifted.)

Here's why wind power is such a great deal for states looking to maximize benefits while complying with the CPP: (Solar power, by the way, is equally brilliant, as is energy efficiency, always the least-cost option available anywhere.) Thanks, in large part, to government incentives and other demand-drivers like state renewable energy standards, the cost of wind (and solar) power is plummeting. Government incentives have helped make this happen by driving economies of scale and spurring both investment in new technologies and competition in the marketplace. In the case of wind power, AWEA's report tells us, the cost has dropped by a dizzying 66 percent in the last six years alone. As it is, the technology now offers power producers and states some of the lowest-cost options for cutting emissions. Over the next five years, wind power prices are expected to nosedive further, making wind power seriously cheap in 2020, when the first part of the CPP, the Clean Energy Incentive Program, is scheduled to kick in, and a no-brainer in terms of CPP compliance. This is likely to become true even in parts of the country, like the Southeast and parts of the Great Lakes, that have been, to date, partial or total wind power write-offs, thanks to technological advances such as taller turbine towers, more powerful rotors, and new digital innovations that can increase turbine output by as much as 20 percent.

Pretty impressive, don't you think?

Well, it just gets better. According to AWEA:

  • Wind power has already lowered carbon pollution from the power sector by a whopping 6 percent. Add new projects under construction at the end of 2015 and you get an additional 1 percent reduction. All told, it's the equivalent of taking more than 28 million cars off the roads.
  • Wind power now employs 88,000 Americans, with workers in each of the 50 states, including 21,000 in the manufacturing sector. That 88,000 is up from 50,500 in 2013.
  • Because both fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants require huge amounts of water for cooling, and because wind power requires, well, none, wind power helped the country save a mind-boggling 73 billion gallons of water in 2015. That's 226 gallons per person.
  • Payments to rural landowners totaled $222 million in 2015, with most of that in low-income counties. Taxes wind power developers and owners pay to local governments, along with payments made in lieu of taxes, are helping local counties supply essential services such as education and medical care.
  • Wind power significantly lowered the amounts of dangerous sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide released into our air; these pollutants causes increases in asthma and other respiratory ailments, along with heart disease. By displacing 176,000 metric tons of SO2 and 106,000 metric tons of NOx in 2015, wind power helped Americans avoid a whopping $7.3 billion in health costs as well as an inestimable total in heartache.

The good news doesn't stop there, though:

  • Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas each get more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind power. (Iowa leads the pack with a mammoth 31 percent!) And 11 states get more than 10 percent of their electric mix from the wind: Not just Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, but also Oklahoma, North Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho, Vermont, Colorado, and Oregon.
  • The nation's first offshore wind power project is now under construction, off the Rhode Island coast. As of the end of 2014, there were 13 offshore wind power projects in some stage of development.
  • Non-utility buyers, such as Google, Proctor & Gamble, and General Motors, were responsible for a full 52 percent of the megawatts under contract in 2015, part of a growing trend of non-utility power purchase agreements that includes major companies, universities, and government agencies.

So, really, the news out of the AWEA market report is all good and likely to remain so, thanks to the recent reinstatement of the federal Production Tax Credit for Wind Power and the enactment of increasingly ambitious renewable energy standards in states such as California, New York, Oregon, Hawaii, and Vermont. The ability of states and power producers to use increasingly cheap wind power to comply with the Clean Power Plan is now icing on the cake.

About the Authors

Nathanael Greene

Director, Renewable Energy Policy, Energy & Transportation program

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