Wind power has been used for thousands of years, and it is currently one of the most-used sources of energy worldwide. Over the past few decades, a global interest in renewable energy has helped wind power to develop, and the United States has some of the best wind resources available.
About Wind Power
What is Wind Energy
Wind power is clean, affordable, domestically produced, renewable electricity. Wind is now the second fastest-growing source of electricity in the world, with a global installed capacity of over 744 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2020. As of January 2021, the U.S. Wind Turbine Database contains more than 67,000 turbines. To understand what this looks like, you can see U.S. wind farm locations on the U.S. Geological Survey’s interactive map. Having more than tripled over the past decade, wind power is now the largest source of renewable generating capacity in the country. The United States has some of the best wind resources in the entire world, and each year, U.S. grid operators continue to use wind power to meet an ever-increasing amount of their electricity needs. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) region, covering the Great Plains states and parts of North Texas, has achieved wind penetration levels of over 50% several times over the past year. Similarly, in both Iowa and Kansas, wind surpassed coal as the state’s top electricity source in 2020. Wind power is expected to increase by 10% in 2021, according to EIA’s Short Term Energy Outlook.
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 more people have invested in it, giving wind turbine technology a chance to mature, 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 2020, the American wind industry installed 16913 megawatts (MW) of new capacity, an increase of 89% on 2019’s new turbines. Wind now supplies 8.4% of the country’s electricity, and this figure is increasing.
Offshore Wind Energy
While offshore wind is an established global industry, the first U.S. offshore wind farm only came online in 2016, but the last few years have shown significant developments in this space. 2021 is expected to be a record year in wind installations globally, with the states of Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Wyoming and New Mexico spending the most on wind power projects over the next ten years.
Offshore wind resources in the U.S. tend to be a convenient choice, as they are 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, proximal to 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. 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. In fact, the Wind Vision Report predicts more than 600,000 jobs will be created in wind power services such as manufacturing, installation, maintenance and support by 2050.
Wind Energy Fun Facts
Benefits of Wind Energy
WIND AND THE ECONOMY
The United States could rely on wind power entirely, as it has 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 2020, American wind power reached a new record: around 337.5 billion KW hours of wind electricity were generated in the United States.
Renewable energy investments increased to 85 billion U.S. dollars in 2020, an increase of over 50% compared to the previous year.
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 which helps them to maintain the land.
Other local benefits of wind turbines include property tax payments, payments in lieu of taxes, and increased local spending, as well as its associated tax revenue. These local benefits are often used toward community development such as schools, libraries and hospitals, so wind turbines tend to have a great knock-on effect.
Wind energy provides electricity at a stable cost, competing with new installations of natural gas and costing less than both 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 most cost-effective 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.
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 2020, the U.S. wind energy industry supported more than 115,000 full-time equivalent jobs associated with wind energy project planning, siting, development, construction, manufacturing and supply chain, and operations.
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
WIND AND THE ENVIRONMENT
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 waste.
The energy used 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 385 million metric tons of CO2—the equivalent of reducing power sector CO2 emissions by around 17%.
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.
Wind power consumes between 0.1% to 14% of the water that coal and nuclear power plants use to produce just 1 MW of output. With the right policies, water consumption could be reduced dramatically.
Wind turbines operate without emitting any 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.
America, like most other nations, is committing to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, into the air. These gases combine to form smog, and create unhealthy air that can put people at risk of 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
With non-renewable forms of energy, we have repeatedly seen the problems it has caused as a result of the waste produced. Coal plants 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. This damage can last decades.
For example, coal burned in power plants is the leading source of human-caused emissions of mercury. This mercury ends up 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.
You are likely familiar with stories of nuclear disasters. Nuclear fuel contains highly radioactive waste that requires hundreds of thousands of years to decay to the point where it becomes harmless. Using wind power does not have any of these long-term consequences which cause significant harm to our planet.
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 any negative impact wind turbines might have on wildlife. Wind power and wildlife can hopefully coexist as wind power continues to grow, thereby helping maintain a healthier environment for all.
Wildlife also faces many other threats resulting from human activities, such as pollution and loss and degradation of habitat. Wind power can combat these, and 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.”
As wind power becomes more popular, it 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. Construction will be done to install turbines on rural land, and little has been done about the inevitable bird and bat collisions that occur.
The American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) has an abundance of information on how wildlife is affected by wind power. 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 biggest federal incentive for wind energy development is the Production Tax Credit (PTC). The renewable electricity production tax credit is a per kilowatt-hour (kWh) federal tax credit included under Section 45 of the U.S. tax code for electricity generated forqualified renewable sources of energy, including wind. Electricity from wind, as well as other renewable sources, receive as much as 2.5 cents/kWh.
This tax credit has therefore been able to help wind developers to fund new wind projects.
The PTC was a huge boost for the wind power industry, though it was not always smooth-sailing. 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, which made investors struggle to see wind power as a stable investment.
In December 2015, with strong bipartisan support, Congress agreed to a stable phase-out of the PTC, and this was completed in 2019. This long-term policy created a business environment primed for growth, which benefits American families and businesses. Today, over 100,000 Americans across all 50 states work in wind, and it is now perceived as trustworthy investment by most.
Wind Energy Economics
WIND IS COST-COMPETITIVE
In fact, the price of American wind power has declined more than 90% since 1980, making it cost-competitive with new natural gas generation due to continuing technological innovation. It is now frequently cheaper than coal or gas. 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, as the demand for cheap but sustainable energy increases.
WIND COSTS ARE CONTINUING TO DECLINE
The cost of wind power has declined 67% since 2009, and as the technology continues to advance, with taller towers and longer blades, the industry expects costs to decline further. The following chart from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory shows the dramatic drop in wind prices over the last nine years.
The main issue America is currently facing with wind energy is its transportation. Some of the best wind resources in the country are located in remote areas far away from the largest load centers and electricity markets.
This problem can be overcome by 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.
For now, however, 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.
There are other reasons why America should invest in its power grid, however. A congested and obsolete power grid limits consumers’ access to lower-cost power. The power grid is also prone to blackouts, making it inefficient for everyone. These factors alone cost American consumers tens of billions of dollars per year in elevated electric rates and lost productivity.
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 less at one location, it is usually increasing somewhere else. Thus, dispersed wind power compensates for day-to-day variance.