Fact Check

Wind and solar work together to diversify American energy

Wind power is an important part of America's electricity mix.
Wind and solar work together to diversify American energy

There was big news in the renewable energy world this week, as Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors announced plans to buy Solar City.

However, earlier Huffington Post coverage by reporters Alexander Kaurman and Damon Beres misunderstands Musk’s support for wind and reiterates two myths about it.

As Musk noted, wind is “part of the equation.” He expanded, “I think the wind companies are doing fine, and where wind is applicable they seem to be doing a good job of generating that.”

Wind was the largest source of new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2015, with more coming online than solar or natural gas. That’s partially because in many parts of the country, it’s now the cheapest source of new electricity, a statement confirmed by Politifact, FactCheck.org and Wall Street investment firm Lazard.

2015 Share of Capacity Installations

That’s possible because wind’s costs have dropped 66 percent over the last six years, driven by American innovation and improved domestic manufacturing. These technological advances include turbines that can reach higher wind resources, so the resulting wind energy is more economical in more places.

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Today, there’s enough wind power in the U.S. for 20 million American homes, and wind is on track to quadruple to supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030. Iowa already relies on wind to reliably supply over 31% of its electricity, and a dozen states use it to generate at least 10%. When North Carolina’s first utility-scale wind farm comes online later this year, 41 states will have such projects.

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As for the myths, it’s highly subjective that wind is noisy. Wind turbines are typically built at least 1,000 feet away from the nearest house. At that distance they’re about as quiet as a refrigerator, and quieter than a mid-size window air conditioner unit.

how loud is a wind turbine

Courtesy of General Electric

Nor does wind energy have a big impact on wildlife. It has the lowest cradle-to-grave lifecycle impact on wildlife and its habitats of any source of electricity, as detailed in a 2009 study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Larger sources of impacts include cars, buildings and cell towers.

In reality, as one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways to reduce carbon pollution, wind power directly combats what scientists agree is the largest threat to wildlife: climate change. In 2015, wind reduced over 28 million cars’ worth of CO2 pollution.

While major corporations like Apple and Google have invested in solar, they’ve also bought a lot of wind — along with companies like Microsoft, Amazon, General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Walmart and a number of others. In fact, from 2015 through the first quarter of 2016, wind energy represented two-thirds of the megawatts contracted by corporate purchasers of renewable energy, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Growing both wind and solar helps diversify America’s electricity mix, which in turn leads to a healthier system and lower energy costs for families and businesses.

Fact Check

Greg is AWEA's Deputy Director of External Communications. He is the head editor and writer for Into the Wind, and oversees AWEA's online content and opinion writing. Greg holds a Master's degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University's School of International Service. He also holds a Bachelor's degree in International Relations and Journalism from Lehigh University.

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