The Huffington Post yesterday featured an article on the “10 least green states” in the U.S., based on an analysis by 24/7 Wall St. While some were no surprise, the list included a few that have been truly outstanding in their development of wind power.
Topping the group of wind leaders on the list is Texas. The Lone Star State has moved out to a strong lead in recent years, and now has more wind installed than the next three states (Iowa, California, and Minnesota) combined–or to put it another way, more wind than the 38 states with the least installed.
How did Texas achieve such a commanding leadership position? Chris Head, at Americans for Energy Leadership, has the story (The Curious Case of the Texas Wind Industry, February 9, 2011). Briefly, the state is blessed with extraordinary wind resources (enough to produce more electricity than the entire U.S. uses) and has taken advantage of them through a series of visionary policies.
Other wind leaders on the HuffPo list are Illinois (ranking 7th in the U.S., with enough installed wind generating capacity to power the equivalent of more than half a million average American homes) and Indiana (ranking 11th, with enough wind to power 344,000 homes). Both states have come on strong in recent years due to the discovery that they have stronger winds than previously estimated by wind researchers.
It's no wonder that wind has also made great strides nationally recently, accounting for more than a third (35%) of all new electric generating capacity installed in the past four years and installing enough capacity in the past three to generate more electricity than five new nuclear power plants.
From a utility's standpoint, adding wind to the generation portfolio provides excellent insurance against a range of possible regulations–wind has zero air and water emissions and produces no hazardous waste.
Wind also generates electricity with virtually no water use, unlike all forms of thermal generation (coal, natural gas, nuclear)–the U.S. Department of Energy has calculated that if wind grows to supply 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030, some 4 trillion gallons of water will be saved–enough to fill a string of water bottles, laid end-to-end, stretching from the Earth to Saturn and back, twice.
At the same time, the economies of local communities, counties and states all benefit when new wind projects are installed, bringing rental payments to farmers and ranchers and local property tax revenue to counties. This year alone, wind project operators will pay farmers an estimated $120 million for the use of a small fraction of their land.
So, hats off to Texas, Illinois, Indiana and the many other states that have powered ahead in recent years with wind, filling the leadership vacuum that has been left by the lack of a serious national energy policy.