Wind Power Is a Win for Americans and the Environment

Posted April 14, 2014 at 12:46pm

Wind power is a win-win for consumers and the environment.

By the end of the year, U.S. wind plants will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 100 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road. Wind energy cuts emissions of other health-harming pollutants by hundreds of thousands of tons annually, while also saving tens of billions of gallons of water in drought-ravaged areas by displacing water consumption at conventional power plants. As the lowest cost and most scalable zero-emission electricity source, wind energy plays a critical role in diversifying our energy mix.

Wind power reduces both pollution and energy bills through the same market-driven mechanism: zero-fuel-cost wind energy displaces on a 1-1 basis electricity from the most expensive, least efficient fossil-fired power plant that is currently operating. Wind energy is immune to fuel price fluctuations, protecting consumers from fuel price increases while providing sustained pollution reductions that do not stop if fuel prices change. More than a dozen studies by independent grid operators, state governments and academic experts confirm wind’s consumer benefits.

Similarly, wind’s large pollution reductions are confirmed by every study on the topic by independent grid operators and peer-reviewed experts. However, Mike Krancer’s recent column in Roll Call (“A Warning to Congress: Renewal of Wind Energy Subsidies Will Lead to a Big Boost in Carbon Emissions,” April 3) deploys three myths to obfuscate wind energy’s pollution savings and strikes out on all three.

First, Krancer propagates the myth developed by Exelon, the largest owner of competing power plants in the United States (and Krancer’s former employer, which he fails to disclose), that the renewable tax credit is cutting into profit margins at its nuclear plants. This was thoroughly debunked in an American Wind Energy Association report last month, which showed the tax credit almost never is reflected in electricity prices and that wind’s real impact is entirely market-driven. Grid operator data shows Exelon has overstated occurrences of negative prices at its nuclear plants by a factor of 20, most of which are actually caused by the nuclear plants themselves and not wind. Exelon’s profits are down because its strategy of selling electricity in the spot market suffers when natural gas prices and electricity demand are low, as even Exelon has admitted on a number of occasions.

Krancer then references an old attack piece by a lobbyist for a competing energy source that falsely claims wind’s pollution reductions are less than expected. This was conclusively debunked last year by analysis of real-world emissions data showing that wind produces 99.8 percent of the expected emissions savings, and further debunked last month by the mid-Atlantic grid operator’s own analysis. Even the authors of the anti-wind piece Krancer references directly contradicted their initial findings in a follow-up study.

Finally, Krancer takes a National Research Council study out of context, neglecting to mention that the report only examined an extremely small amount of wind deployment, hence the pollution reductions were small.

Wind energy — and its benefits — are expanding rapidly, thanks to continuing cost declines. Wind energy’s costs have fallen 43 percent in the past four years, driven by technological advances and the creation of a domestic manufacturing supply chain that produced more than 70 percent of wind turbine value in America as of 2013. Because of those cost declines, U.S. wind energy use has more than tripled over the last five years, accounting for more than 35 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity over that time period.

The renewable production tax credit is essential to this success, but changing course will reverse those gains by shutting down wind’s domestic supply chain. About 80,000 American jobs and 550 wind energy manufacturing facilities spread across 44 states are at stake. In fact, the tax relief provided by the production tax credit is so effective at stimulating private investment ($25 billion in 2012) and job creation that the tax credit more than pays for itself by generating additional tax revenue.

The renewable production tax credit enjoys strong bipartisan support, with around 70 percent support in recent polls by USA Today and Gallup. Fossil and nuclear energy have each received 10 times more federal funding per year than renewable energy, over 90-year and 50-year periods, respectively, versus 15 years for renewables, as documented by DBL Investors and confirmed by a similar tally from the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Wind energy is working as intended, displacing more expensive and polluting sources of energy.

Michael Goggin is the senior electric industry analyst at the American Wind Energy Association.