Wind Power: A Great American Resource

, former president | May 27, 2015, 9:47 am EDT
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I don’t usually go to trade association conferences. I’m not a big fan of the back patting, the bland “inspirational” speeches, or the exhibit booths populated by eager salespeople.

But when I was invited to speak on federal policy at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conference in Orlando this week, I put all that aside.

I’m glad I did. Here are some key things I took away:

Wind energy can be a great American success story. Just as our country has taken advantage of its rich farmland and vast natural resources, we are now reaping the bounty of our wide open spaces and the strong steady winds that blow across them. The United States is the largest generator of wind energy in the world, with enormous expansion potential.

North Allegheny Windpower Project in Blair and Cambria Counties. Photo Credit: Duke Energy/Flickr

North Allegheny Windpower Project in Blair and Cambria Counties. Photo: Duke Energy/Flickr

Wind power is cost-effective and getting cheaper. I learned about long-term contracts for wind power at 2 1/2 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s well below the price for energy from a new natural gas or coal plant. And these contracts typically last for 15 to 20 years, so the power is not only cheap, it is stable and predictable.

The benefits are widespread. Wind energy is not just good for consumers who like low energy prices, or climate hawks like me who want clean, carbon-free sources of electricity. I heard from farmers and ranchers who are holding on to their family businesses by leasing some of their land for wind turbines. And veterans who have come home from military service and are manufacturing wind turbine components and building, operating and maintaining wind farms all across the country.

This industry doesn’t expect a long-term hand out. For a number of years, the wind industry has benefitted from a federal subsidy. This subsidy helped reduce the cost of wind power by giving a young industry a foothold to grow and innovate, and establish domestic manufacturing capacity. But the CEO’s I heard at this conference acknowledged that this subsidy cannot last forever, and they are not asking for that. They are focused on finding new ways to cut more costs so wind energy is competitive without subsidies.

This is quite a contrast from the fossil fuel industry, which enjoys enormous subsidies, including the ability to spew carbon pollution into the atmosphere without paying a cent for the harm this causes. And the fossil fuel industry has no intention of letting this subsidy go and is fighting with all its might to keep it.

We need a level playing field. I left this conference full of optimism about an industry that is maturing and offering a cost-effective way for the United States to cut its emissions of heat-trapping gases. But, the potential for wind energy remains constrained by the fact that the price of fossil-fueled energy doesn’t reflect its true cost. We need to fix that, first with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and ultimately with carbon pricing. Then we can truly unleash this great American resource.

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming

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  • Thank you for your comments on wind power. Bird mortality is an issue but the problem has been overstated and the wind industry takes effective steps to address it. If you would like to know more about wind energy and bird mortality, please look at an article we did on this subject.

  • phillama

    wind farms are dumb, I went by that wind farm in north texas and there were windmills killing birds as far as the eye could see, literally for miles and they dont produce any energy, about a third of the energy of a spall coal plant, these things are a bid joke, like a lot of recommendations by unconcernede scientists

  • Richard Solomon

    UCS members need to continue to press their elected reps in DC to pass legislation that forces the fossil fuel industry to pay for the full costs of their products. This will be resisted, of course, with the full force and might of the industry. But the effort is worth the result: the public will finally begin to see that wind, solar, and other renewables are the best way to move forward in the coming years.

    • Farron Cousins

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    • Hannah Wallen

      Enjoy holly days ucsusa … kEEP READING

  • We need to migrate the subsidy currently allocated to big oil and create a factory intensive public works project to create a distributed renewables energy grid … use that reallocated subsidy funding to offer a 90% discount on installing a solar voltaic panel, mini-helix wind turbine and battery backup on every roof that wants one, using tax dollars to cover that 90% cost, while creating hundreds of thousands of manufacturing, construction, installation and support jobs ~ if we set those jobs at a $15 minimum wage, poverty could be ended across our nation as a side-benefit to energy independence and mitigating our carbon footprint …

  • Robert Gehl

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