Will Wind Energy Emerge as the Unsung Hero in Fighting Climate Change?

Daniel D’Arcy, CEG Environmental Right-to-Know Intern, contributed to this article.

While solar energy typically receives the most attention as the “bright future” of renewable energy, there is strong evidence that wind energy will emerge as the “unsung hero” of the renewable clean energy movement.

A key strategy for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming included in President Obama’s Clean Power Plan unveiled earlier this month is to grow renewable energy from its current 10 percent of all energy used in America to 28 percent by 2030.

Expanding wind power would have significant climate, health and environmental benefits.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a roadmap that projects wind power as nation’s primary clean renewable energy source, supplying 20 percent of U.S. energy by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. Achieving these targets would cut global-warming carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 16 percent in 2030 and 23 percent by 2050 compared to the 2013 level electricity produced by wind power. The avoided climate change damages under this scenario amount to an estimated $400 billion.

Compared to relying on current levels of fossil fuels for power, achieving the 2050 wind power target would also substantially reduce our exposure to air pollution. Those pollution reductions between 2013 to 2050 translates into important health benefits, including almost 22,000 avoided early deaths and more than 10,000 avoided emergency room visits for asthma attacks. These and other health benefits amount to an estimated $108 billion in health benefits.

Wind energy is also good for jobs and our pocketbooks.

Wind energy is also a growing industry for the workforce. Nearly 23,000 new jobs were created in 2014, and 73,000 people are currently employed in the wind energy sector. Under the DOE plan, approximately 600,000 wind-related jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and support services would be created across the nation.

Additionally, wholesale cost of wind energy is now cheaper than ever, making wind a competitive alternative to conventional energy in some areas of the country. Looking ahead to the future, estimates of costs to consumers from a significantly expanded wind energy scenario could save consumers up to $31 billion, though these estimates vary significantly depending on assumptions of future technology and fossil fuel costs.

Wind energy is growing and has potential to grow substantially more in the near future.

Wind turbines in the U.S. now provide enough electricity to power nearly 18 million homes and generate approximately 5 percent of our nation’s electricity. And wind power has been growing dramatically, with one-third of all new electricity generating power developed between 2006 and 2013 coming from wind sources. While solar energy power output doubled from 2013 to 2014, planned added power in 2015 from wind energy will amount to more than four times that from solar power.

Many of the strongest winds occur in the central and northern plains, thus these areas have become prime locations for the wind energy industry. The darker areas in the map below highlight areas with highest wind power potential.

Already more than 20 percent of electricity used in Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota is generated by wind power. And while wind energy has rightly been championed as a clean renewable energy source to address climate change, ironically a study found the effects of climate change will increase these already strong winds.

As the nation looks to significantly increasing renewable energy sources to provide clean, affordable energy, it is clear that wind power will emerge as an important piece of our energy future and an engine for economic growth for the nation.

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