The United States has some of the best wind resources in the entire world, and the technology has never been better or more cost-effective than it is right now.
What is Wind Energy
Utility-Scale Wind Energy
With technological advances and reduced production prices, wind energy is a serious and important component of utility generation. Not only do wind projects provide a clean source of electricity, but they also help keep electric rates low and provide a hedge against fossil fuel price volatility. Wind energy costs have declined over the past few years as wind turbine technology has matured (for example, with taller towers and improved turbine efficiencies).
Wind energy is now one of the most cost-effective sources of new electricity generation, beating all other sources on cost in wind-rich regions. During 2017, the American wind industry installed 7,017 megawatts (MW) of new capacity bringing the total installed capacity to nearly 89,000 MW – enough to power the equivalent of 24 million average homes. Wind now supplies 6.3% of the country’s electricity and is on pace to provide 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020.
Offshore Wind Energy
Offshore wind resources in the U.S. are not only vast, they are also located near the fastest-growing electricity demand centers: coastal areas, which are among the most populated parts of the country. Offshore wind development, therefore, offers something that is extremely valuable for our economy, environment, and national security: a source of clean, domestic, inexhaustible energy with which to meet fast-growing electricity demand, near population centers.
Like their land-based counterparts, offshore wind farms are likely to be built in areas with large regional power markets that facilitate smooth and cost-effective integration of wind into the overall electric system. While offshore wind is an established global industry, the first U.S. offshore wind farm came online in 2016, and last year saw more significant developments in this space. At the end of 2017, 14 proposed wind projects were in various stages of development off the East and Great Lakes coasts. Once completed, they could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 4.5 million American homes.
Important policy developments are happening in New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts, which will continue to foster American offshore wind growth. The offshore market segment has the potential to create an entirely new supply chain and manufacturing sector, which in turn means more good jobs and economic opportunity. The trend has continued so far in 2018 with more positive developments in these states, as well as strong signals in New Jersey.
Wind Energy Fun Facts
The U.S. currently has over 90,000 MW of installed wind project capacity.
Twenty states now produce more than 5% of their electricity generation from wind energy.
An average turbine provides enough power for 750 typical American homes.
In 2017, electricity generated by wind energy avoided 189 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the equivalent of reducing power sector CO2 emissions by over 10%.
Wind energy became the number one source of new U.S. electricity generating capacity for the first time in 2012. In 2017, renewable energy accounted for 55% of all new U.S. generating capacity.
Unlike nearly every other form of utility-scale energy, wind power uses virtually no water in generation.
In the last decade, the wind industry has invested over $145 billion in the U.S. economy.
The U.S. wind manufacturing sector includes over 500 manufacturing facilities across 41 states.
Wind energy prices have dropped 67% since 2009.
Wind projects deliver over $267 million in land lease payments to farmers, ranchers, and other landowners each year, helping provide financial stability for their families and businesses.
Benefits of Wind Energy
Wind and the Economy
The United States boasts some of the best wind resources in the world, with enough accessible kinetic energy to produce 3.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually—or nearly 10 times the country’s existing power needs. In 2017, American wind power blew through an historic milestone: 88 gigawatts of generating capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 24 million American homes.
Since 2008, wind energy has attracted over $145 billion in private investment to the United States.
The value of wind project development flows toward the local community through annual land lease payments. With over 98% of all wind energy projects on private land, wind energy projects deliver at least $267 million every year in land lease payments to landowners. Often located in rural areas, these lease payments offer family farmers and ranchers a new drought-resistant cash crop.
Other local benefits include property tax payments, payments in lieu of taxes, and increased local spending plus its associated tax revenue. These local benefits are often used toward community development such as schools, libraries and hospitals.
Wind energy provides electricity at a stable cost and is one of the most cost-effective sources of new generation, competing with new installations of natural gas and costing less than either coal or nuclear power. In fact, the cost of wind power has come down more than 90% since the 1980s and 67% since 2009, as technology has matured with more efficient manufacturing and enhanced turbine performance and reliability.
In many states, and particularly in the Great Plains, new wind farms are now the least expensive electricity option.
Wind energy also protects consumers against volatility in fuel pricing. Once a wind farm is built, the price is often locked in through a long-term contract between the project owners and the local electric utility. See the economics section to learn more.
Wind and Jobs
Local economic impacts of wind power are derived from temporary and permanent employment in construction, engineering, transportation, manufacturing, and operations; local economic activity resulting from wind construction; and increased revenues from land lease payments and tax revenue.
As the wind energy industry continues to grow, it will provide many opportunities for workers in search of new careers. These careers extend beyond operations & maintenance positions on the wind farms. The wind industry employs people in areas such as manufacturing, consulting, transportation, legal, finance, meteorology, sales, marketing, logistics, communications, public relations, policy, and more. At the end of 2017, the U.S. wind energy industry supported more than 101,000 full-time equivalent jobs associated with wind energy project planning, siting, development, construction, manufacturing and supply chain, and operations. Of the 101,000 jobs, approximately 23,000 were in the manufacturing sector.
Wind turbine manufacturing represents a growing segment and business opportunity in the wind energy industry. More than 500 American manufacturing plants build wind components, towers and blades. Now, more than 50% of a U.S.-installed turbine’s value is produced in America, a twelve-fold increase from just a few years ago. Some turbine manufacturers plan to make 100% of their components in America, and the trend is expected to continue.
And the future of employment in the wind industry is bright as well. To achieve 20% wind power by 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the United States will require more than 100,000 additional wind turbines, creating more than 500,000 new jobs.
Wind and the Environment
“Generating electricity from wind does not use water or produce air pollution.”
Wind power today is a mainstream electricity generation technology. As a renewable energy source, wind power also comes with many environmental benefits, from cleaner air and water to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and water use. These benefits help sustain people, wildlife, and the planet on which we live.
Expanding the use of wind power improves environmental conditions for us all because unlike conventional energy sources, generating wind power does not produce harmful emissions or hazardous wastes.
The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months. While a wind energy facility may encompass a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture and ranching are compatible because turbine foundations and infrastructure have small footprints.
Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Electricity generation is the largest industrial source of air pollution in the United States, and demand for electricity continues to grow. The United States produces about 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from energy production and consumption annually.
In 2017, wind energy avoided an estimated 189 million metric tons of CO2—the equivalent of reducing power sector CO2 emissions by around 11%, or 40 million cars’ worth of carbon emissions.
Reduced Water Use
Because fossil-fired and nuclear power plants require cooling water, the electricity sector accounts for about 40% of all U.S. water withdrawals.
In 2017, wind energy generation reduced water consumption at existing power plants by approximately 95 billion gallons of water – the equivalent of roughly 290 gallons per person in the U.S. or conserving the equivalent of 723 billion bottles of water.
Wind turbines operate without emitting air pollutants. Generating electricity from wind therefore helps the nation meet its electricity demand while also avoiding the health damages that can come with conventional power generation.
Such pollution includes emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, which combine to form smog. Unhealthy levels of these pollutants place people at risk for decreased lung function, asthma, respiratory infection, lung inflammation, and aggravation of respiratory illness, according to the National Academy of Science and the American Lung Association.
No Water Pollution or Waste
Coal burned in power plants is the leading source of human-caused emissions of mercury, which eventually becomes concentrated in fish, such as tuna and swordfish, and can cause brain damage when ingested by young children and birth defects when ingested by women of child-bearing age.
Coal plants also produce solid waste containing heavy metals and other toxic substances that can contaminate drinking water supplies and harm local ecosystems if not disposed of safely.
Similarly, spent nuclear fuel contains highly radioactive waste that requires hundreds of thousands of years to decay to the point where it becomes harmless. It also contains large quantities of less radioactive, yet still dangerous, waste.
Land Use Compatibility
The turbines and related infrastructure of a wind energy project occupy just 2% to 5% of the project area, leaving at least 95% of the land free for other uses. Wind turbines around the world coexist safely with schools, highways, hiking trails, and farms.
Wind and Wildlife
The wind industry approaches wildlife issues proactively and is working to prevent and reduce impacts from wind project siting. The industry is confident that wind power and wildlife can coexist as wind power continues to grow, thereby helping maintain a healthier environment for all.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Accelerated climate change is the single biggest threat to wildlife. It is impacting all ecosystems, habitats, and species – not just those identified as imperiled.” Wildlife also faces many other threats resulting from human activities, such as pollution and loss and degradation of habitat. These threats can often be compounded by the impacts of climate change.
As a fuel-free, inexhaustible, domestic and readily available source of energy, wind power has an important role to play in addressing climate change and in improving environmental conditions for wildlife. Even so, since wind energy projects are often located in rural, unpopulated areas of the United States where wildlife is also found, some impact is unavoidable. Bird and bat collisions and direct and indirect habitat effects are the primary impacts associated with wind projects.
For more information on how the wind industry is proactively working to address its impacts on wildlife, visit the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI). AWWI works collaboratively with the wind industry, conservation and science organizations, and wildlife management agencies to ensure that wind energy and wildlife both thrive.
Wind Energy Policy
Federal Production Tax Credit
The primary federal incentive for wind energy development is the Production Tax Credit (PTC). Tax policy is an important driver that prompts private investment, benefits the U.S. economy, and creates new jobs. Just as tax treatment for other energy sources has enabled growth and development, the PTC helped wind developers access the capital needed to build new wind projects.
The PTC was originally authored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and former Representative Phil Sharp (D-IN) as part of energy legislation in 1992. This policy helped launch the wind industry as we know it. However, at times a lack of policy certainty around the PTC hampered the growth of U.S. wind power. For many years, Congress cycled through the tax credit in one- or two-year stints, allowing it to expire multiple times. This cyclical pattern resulted in boom-bust cycles of development.
In December 2015, with strong bipartisan support, Congress agreed to a stable phase-out of the PTC to be completed by 2019. This long-term policy certainty created a business environment primed for growth, which benefits American families and businesses. Because of this, today over 100,000 Americans across all 50 states work in wind.
Wind Energy Economics
Wind is Cost-Competitive
Wind energy is now cost-competitive with new natural gas generation due to continuing technological innovation. In fact, the price of American wind power has declined more than 90% since 1980, benefiting utilities and consumers. This is one reason that as of January 2018, there were more than 28,668 megawatts of new wind projects under construction or in advanced development in the U.S.
According to Lazard, an asset management firm based in New York, new wind projects are often cheaper than coal and natural gas.
Wind costs are continuing to decline
The cost of wind power has declined 67% since 2009, according to asset management firm Lazard. And as the technology continues to advance, with taller towers and longer blades, the industry expects costs to further decline in the years ahead. The following chart from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory shows the dramatic drop in wind prices over the last nine years.
The U.S. Department of Energy has identified transmission limitations as the largest obstacle to realizing the economic, environmental, and energy security benefits of obtaining 20% of our electricity from wind power.
Some of the best wind resources in the country are located in remote areas far away from the largest load centers and electricity markets. Expanding and upgrading the nation’s electric transmission grid would help deliver the lowest-cost wind resources from distant areas to population centers where electricity demand is greatest. Also, by facilitating the expansion and geographical dispersion of wind power across a wide area, an upgraded transmission grid improves the reliability of wind. When wind output is slowing at one location, it is usually increasing somewhere else. Thus, dispersed wind power compensates for short-term fluctuations.
Aside from leveraging our wind resources, there are a number of other reasons why America needs to invest in its power grid. A congested and obsolete power grid limits consumers’ access to lower-cost power. It is also inefficient and prone to blackouts. These factors alone cost American consumers tens of billions of dollars per year in elevated electric rates and lost productivity.