Wind Power Soars to New Heights, One Megawatt at a Time

, Senior energy analyst | January 29, 2016, 11:26 am EDT
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The 2015 wind power results are just in, and the news is worth celebrating: strong performance over the course of the year, a great finish, and lots more to come. What struck me most about the impressive fourth quarter results alone—5,001 new megawatts—was that final digit, the 1. It’s a reminder that, when it comes to wind, each megawatt counts, and that it all adds up to real progress.

AWEA Q4 2015 resultsThe latest figures, courtesy of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), show that the U.S. added almost 8,600 megawatts (MW) during the year. That brings our nation’s total to 74,472 MW—meaning enough generation to meet the electricity needs of some 20 million American households.

We’ve gotten used to seeing impressive numbers for clean energy in recent years, for wind power and more. It’s important to stop and think occasionally, though, about what’s embedded in each new wind farm, each new wind turbine, each new megawatt of wind power.

Adding up

A single megawatt generates millions of kilowatt-hours per year, electricity equivalent to the demands of several hundred typical homes. But it and its fellow megawatts also generate jobs, income, health protection, and environmental progress:

  • Jobs, jobs, jobs – Behind each megawatt of wind turbine are the people who manufactured it and the 8,000 components that go into each turbine, the ones who developed the wind projects and financed them, and the ones who installed the turbine, and maintain it over time. That last category, wind turbine technician, as AWEA is proud to point out, was recently noted by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics as being the fastest growing profession in the country, with employment projected to double by 2024.
  • More income – Along with the income for those who make the wind turbines and wind farms happen technically and financially come the lease payments for the landowners whose lands host each turbine, and the tax revenues for local towns. For a farmer or rancher, each new megawatt of wind can mean thousands of dollars of year in extra income, in ways that don’t get in the way of crops or cattle.
  • Better health and wellness – Each new wind megawatt also means less generation from coal or other fossil fuels, which offers lots of benefits for all of us who count on clean air and clean water, and a healthy planet. Less smog-producing and asthma-inducing pollution, less planet-warming carbon dioxide. And, since wind doesn’t need water to make electricity, unlike almost every other type of power, more wind means less pressure on our lakes and rivers, and fewer impacts to water quality.

    Source: Peter Juvinall - NREL.

    Source: Peter Juvinall – NREL.

More to come

I know what you’re asking yourself: If every megawatt is so powerful, how can I get more of them?

Well, you’ve definitely come to the right place. The December budget deal in Washington included extensions of the tax credits that have been so powerful for driving wind development, creating for the U.S. wind industry what AWEA calls “the best policy certainty it’s ever known.”

In fact, AWEA reports that another 9,400 MW of wind power are under construction.

So celebrate that extra one megawatt in the Q4 wind figures—and every other wind megawatt that comes on line. It all adds up to real progress for our energy mix, and for our future.

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