Ignoring Wind Means Ignoring Real Results

Posted June 20, 2008 at 2:26pm

In an April 21 article on energy (“Warming to Legislation,” Energy & the Environment Policy Briefing), Roll Call failed to consider wind power as a cost-effective and readily available clean energy technology. Roll Call’s editors are apparently unaware that wind energy, once a boutique power source, has now moved into the mainstream of U.S. electricity generation.

The United States currently boasts more than 18,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity spanning 34 states, enough to power 5 million homes. The rate of industry growth escalated dramatically in 2007, when new installations more than doubled and wind provided 35 percent of the nation’s new electrical capacity. With one of the best wind power resources of any nation and rapidly growing electricity demand, the U.S. is today the world’s biggest market for wind energy development.

The construction, manufacture and operation of wind power facilities is a rare bright spot in a tough economy, creating jobs and spurring growth to the tune of more than $9 billion in investment last year. Since January 2007, 28 new wind industry manufacturing plants have opened or been announced in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

The dramatic recent growth could be just the beginning, according to the Department of Energy, which last month released a report documenting the feasibility of expanding wind power to provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2030. To achieve this growth, the U.S. will need to surmount important challenges: increasing transmission, providing stable federal policy support and continuing to build wind turbine manufacturing capability. But no technological breakthroughs will be needed.

Such an expansion in wind power would reduce greenhouse pollution as much as taking 140 million vehicles off the road. But that is only one of many environmental benefits. Wind energy requires no water use, while conventional electricity generation uses more water than any other activity, including agriculture. Twenty percent wind represents a water savings of more than 4 trillion gallons. What’s more, wind energy does not contribute to urban smog or acid rain. It releases no toxins like dioxin or mercury, produces no waste or fill, and requires no drilling, mining or pipelines.

Wind power also helps diversify America’s power supply and stabilize consumer costs. Since wind uses no fuel, the price of electricity from an operating wind farm is unaffected by gyrations in global markets for oil and natural gas due to supply constraints or international instability. Studies project more than $100 billion in consumer savings if wind and other renewable energy sources provide 15 percent of our electricity.

As the leading source of carbon-free electricity that is both technologically ready and rapidly deployable today, wind energy can play a huge role in the critical early years of a climate protection effort, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. However, the continued growth needed to realize wind’s potential is not possible without stable long-term policies that support clean energy. These must start with the one major federal policy now supporting renewable energy, the renewable energy production tax credit, which has expired three times since 1999, leading in each case to dramatic declines (70 percent to 90 percent) in new wind development.

The credit is set to expire yet again, and Congress’ inaction is already reducing investment in new projects, putting 76,000 jobs and $11.5 billion in investment at risk, according to a study by Navigant Consulting. There is broad support across the political spectrum for extending the credit, and it is absolutely critical that Congress act quickly to find a way through the current impasse and enact a full value, long-term extension of the PTC. That is the starting point for a cleaner-energy future.

Gregory Wetstone is senior director for government and public affairs at the American Wind Energy Association.