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Photo | NREL
One of the big stories of the past decade is the rising percentage of our nation’s electricity that is generated by renewable energy. Wind power represents a large amount of that growing number. So here are five things you should know about wind power:
Wind is nationwide
Forty-one states currently have utility-scale wind generation. That means about four out of every five receive some of their electricity from wind. More than that, distributed wind generation (electricity generated by wind turbines that are not connected to the electric grid or are connected on the distribution side) can be found in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Currently, wind power accounts for 5.5% of U.S. electricity – the equivalent to powering approximately 24 million homes. Wind is on track to produce 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020, and could supply up to 35% by 2050 as featured in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Wind Vision report.
Wind is affordable
Wind’s costs have fallen dramatically. Wind is already cost-competitive with natural gas in some parts of the country. Today, wind helps make U.S. businesses competitive by providing stable, low-cost electricity in areas with good wind resources.
How is this possible?
It’s because the “fuel” is free and inexhaustible. Wind is also usually purchased at a fixed price over a long time period (e.g. 20+ years), meaning it can help hedge against price fluctuations from other energy sources such as natural gas.
Projecting outward, DOE estimates that if we generate 35% of our electricity with wind by 2050, consumers would save $149 billion.
That’s not just affordable, that’s getting money back on our investment.
Wind creates high-quality jobs across all 50 states
Wind energy supports more than 100,000 direct jobs in the United States. This employment will continue to grow as demand ramps up. An industry analysis found that direct, indirect, and induced jobs from wind manufacturing, construction, and operations and maintenance could surpass 200,000 U.S. jobs in 2020.
In the United States, wind installations are predominantly installed with turbines manufactured domestically, from more than 500 manufacturing facilities across our nation primarily with nationally-sourced materials, components, and assembly. These turbines are shipped within the nation, with installation and maintenance undertaken by American workers. As an added benefit, U.S. manufacturing capacity serves our wind needs.
American wind technologies also provide global leadership, spurring investment and further development of U.S. wind manufacturing facilities. The wind power industry provides global technological and scientific leadership, while growing the economy and advancing U.S. leadership in manufacturing.
It doesn’t hurt to add that wind technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the country, according to the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. And if 35% of electricity generation is by wind in 2050, DOE estimates wind would support as many as 600,000 jobs.
Wind provides local economic development
Wind energy has auxiliary benefits as well. Along with augmenting our nation’s electrical generation, wind turbine construction and deployment can mean money in the pockets of land owners. Many property owners in high wind speed areas have chosen to host wind turbines on their property, locking in lease payments that provide additional revenue.
The wind energy industry foresees a growing economic impact, with estimates ranging up to $85 billion through 2020 from taxes, manufacturing, construction and operation.
Companies that build wind farms pay taxes to federal and state governments, adding about $2 billion per year into the economy through tax payments.
Wind provides energy diversity and consumer choice
Many businesses and municipalities are choosing wind. Renewable energy credits are available in many states, letting utilities know that consumers want to buy and use renewable energy. As an added incentive, many wind energy suppliers are providing businesses access to more than 20-year, stable, committed, low electricity rates.
The benefits speak for themselves. States with wind energy have maintained the lowest electricity rates, while enhancing grid diversity and resilience. Having additional options is always a good idea for any supplier. Further, wind energy can operate at high generation levels today and into the future without the need for backup or storage.
Beyond grid-connected utility-scale wind, distributed wind powers local communities and rural areas. Many ranchers and farmers are able to bolster their electrical supply by adding small wind turbines on their property to provide power “on the spot” for electric fences, water pumping, and more.
And the future only looks brighter, as new wind technologies come online.
The nation’s first offshore wind farm is now generating electricity off the coast of Rhode Island. Offshore wind provides electricity close to load/demand, where land availability and other electricity options can be limited. Power line inefficiencies can be overcome by having power generated closer to where it’s needed, which is a win for everyone.