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Anderson: Wind Power Is Good for Economy, Environment

Wind power is homegrown and the majority of its jobs are, too. Today, almost 500 American manufacturing plants build wind components and more than two-thirds of a U.S.-installed turbine’s value is produced in America. 

Moreover, a Bush-era Department of Energy report found that increasing wind energy’s contribution to 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 would support 500,000 jobs and increase payments to farmers and other landowners to more than $600 million a year.

The promise of wind power in America is clear, and it’s supported by the majority of Americans.

Despite wind power’s benefits, misunderstandings persist about its effect on wildlife and its value in reducing air pollution and other harmful emissions from fossil fuels. A recent Roll Call opinion piece by Christine Harbin of Americans for Prosperity provided misleading information on both of these topics.

No energy source — in fact, no human activity — has zero effect on the environment. As a clean energy source, however, wind is one of the most compatible with wildlife. To reduce its already modest environmental footprint still further, the wind industry has worked systematically to identify potential effects on birds, bats and other wildlife, and it is engaged in initiatives to reduce, if not eliminate, those effects. 

While birds do occasionally collide with the about 40,000 wind turbines in the United States, based on studies conducted at more than 50 wind farms, it is estimated that fewer than 200,000 birds are killed annually. In contrast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations estimate that annual bird deaths from collisions with buildings range from 97 million to 976 million, 60 million or more may be killed by vehicles and up to 2 million are killed in oil and wastewater pits. 

A recent study by the American Bird Conservancy found that cats kill at least 500 million birds per year. The truth is that no matter how extensively it is developed, wind energy will always be a vanishingly small factor in human-caused bird fatalities.

Regarding bats, since 2003, the wind industry has partnered with Bat Conservation International, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Energy in the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, which conducts research to quantify risks to bats at potential wind energy sites and find ways to reduce fatalities at operating facilities. 

While higher than anticipated bat mortality occurs at some wind farms, this is not universally true, and these deaths are far surpassed by the losses associated with white-nose syndrome, a devastating fungal disease that has decimated bat populations in recent years. The wind industry has been an active partner in research designed to understand and combat white-nose syndrome. 

On the subject of reducing emissions, again, the facts are clear. Because wind power displaces other, more polluting forms of energy, its net health and environmental effects are strongly positive. The combined benefits of wind energy (no air or water pollution or water usage associated with energy production, zero carbon dioxide emissions, etc.) all serve to make wind power far friendlier to wildlife, and humans, than other more traditional forms of energy production.

Harbin offered no studies or evidence to support her claims about wind energy and emissions. In fact, she couldn’t — even the studies conducted by organizations affiliated with hers have found that wind creates significant reductions in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions. 

Just two weeks ago, the Reason Foundation, which is backed by many of the same funders as Harbin’s organization, released a report showing that obtaining 10 percent of our electricity from wind reduces carbon emissions by 9 percent, 20 percent wind reduces emissions by 18 percent and 50 percent wind reduces emissions by a whopping 54 percent. 

Every utility, independent grid operator and government study that has looked at the issue has similarly found that adding wind to the grid significantly reduces harmful pollution. 

Department of Energy data conclusively shows that as states and countries add wind energy to the grid, fossil fuel use and emissions go down. 

States that have added the most wind have actually seen the efficiency of their fossil fuel power plants hold up better than states that have added the least wind. This makes sense because adding wind energy to the grid displaces the output of the most expensive, and therefore least efficient, fossil-fired power plants first. That is why wind energy is a win-win for the environment, consumers and American workers.

 John Anderson is director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association.

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