Here are some facts about wind that are omitted from this recent Wired article:
1) Wind is close to cost-competitive with new natural gas generation, even at today’s unsustainably low natural gas prices, and has positive offsetting benefits.
Adding wind farms to a power system helps lower fuel prices and electric rates and make them more stable and predictable. For example, the Colorado Public Utility Commission recently approved a 25-year, 200-megawatt (MW) power purchase agreement between Xcel Energy subsidiary Public Service Co. of Colorado and NextEra Energy for power from the Limon Wind 2 project. The Colorado PUC underscored how the contract would be cost effective for consumers, saying, “the contract will save ratepayers $100 million on a net-present-value basis over its 25-year term under a base-case natural gas price scenario.”
As Bloomberg New Energy Finance lead wind analyst Justin Wu recently commented, “The public perception of wind power tends to be that it is environmentally friendly, but expensive and intermittent. That is out of date in the best locations, where generation is already cost”competitive with fossil fuel electricity, and that will be the case for the majority of new onshore turbines installed worldwide by 2016.”
2) States that rely more on wind power have seen their electricity rates rise more slowly than states with little or no wind.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the 40 states with least wind installed (and the District of Columbia) saw electric rates rise by just over 34% between 2005 and 2010. By contrast, the top 10 states in wind generation (with wind providing between 5.1% and 15.4% of electricity) saw an increase of less than 11%, or less than one-third as much.
Electricity rates are the result of a number of factors, so wind can't get all the credit. However, it makes sense that a resource with zero fuel costs, when it is available, is going to push the most expensive (and dirtiest) power plants on a utility system off line and save consumers money.
3) Rep. Stearns is misinformed. Wind energy is an American manufacturing success story. The wind industry has been a bright spot through the depths of the recession, creating one of the fastest-growing U.S. manufacturing sectors. Wind is actually insourcing a whole new manufacturing sector. Sixty percent of a wind turbine’s value is now produced here in America, compared to 25% prior to 2005. As the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service recently found, American wind manufacturing facilities have grown to almost 400 in 2010, up from as few as 30 in 2004. The key to that expansion has been the federal Production Tax Credit for wind, which has helped the companies that build wind farms to attract investment and create a market for turbines.
A recent study from Navigant Consulting finds that with stable tax policy, the wind industry can grow to nearly 100,000 American jobs in the next four years, including growing the wind manufacturing sector by one third to 46,000 American manufacturing jobs. This will keep the wind sector on track toward supporting the 500,000 jobs by 2030 envisioned in a report by the U.S. Department of Energy during the George W. Bush administration.
The development of clean, renewable energy sources such as wind power is critically important for the future of the country and everyone who uses electricity now and in the future. Wind energy is clean, abundant, and homegrown, and its cost is dropping. The case for continuing to invest in its growth through a reasonable low tax rate remains strong. And to change course now would only shut down a new U.S. manufacturing sector, just as it is starting to deliver on a large scale.
Let wind finish the job.