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Wind power is helping cut carbon-dioxide emissions at an impressive rate

Rolf Westgard’s July 1 letter doesn’t give American wind power the credit it deserves in terms of its impressive growth and record of cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

The U.S. wind energy industry had its strongest year ever in 2012, installing a record 13,124 megawatts (MW) of electric generating capacity, leveraging $25 billion in private investment, and achieving over 60,000 MW of cumulative wind capacity. Wind was the No. 1 source of new U.S. electric generating capacity, providing some 42 percent of all new generating capacity.

The 60,000 MW of American wind is enough to power the equivalent of almost 15 million homes, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 100 million tons per year.

Every amount of wind energy production displaces on a 1:1 basis the output of the most expensive power plant that is currently online, which is almost always the least efficient fossil-fired power plant. As a result, numerous states have seen their emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants plummet as they ramped up their use of wind energy. For example, Minnesota wind grew from providing less than 4 percent of the state’s electricity in 2006 to almost 10 percent in 2009, causing electric-sector carbon dioxide emissions to fall by more than 10 percent, or 4 million metric tons per year.

Wind power is not just doing its part in reducing carbon emissions; it’s doing so at impressive rate.

Michael Goggin is the manager of transmission policy for the American Wind Energy Association. 

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Comments (11)

Expensive 29% capacity factor wind power

Mr Goggins of the AWEA follows me around in print to defend wind power. The reason "wind energy production displaces on a 1:1 basis the output of the most expensive power plant that is currently online," is the multi billion $23 mwhr direct subsidy not available to those other plants. Take away the Production Tax Credit, and wind turbine blades go as quiet as the wind on those muggy summer days when all ACs are running and power demand peaks.
Wind power is not a scam. It's just a low density erratic supplement. Even with the 60,000 MW capacity Mr Goggins note, wind provides just a little over 3% of our electricity.

Follow The Leader

I have to wonder who is following who here.

Wind is 3% of our electrical production at the moment, but will it always stay that low? Is it not growing? At what point will it replace all the low hanging fruit, the plants that are expensive to run?

Costs

Wind is the most expensive, except possibly for solar. It replaces other sources with its $23 mwh direct subsidy. If you gave that for Prairie Island, Xcel would get $170 million/year from taxpayers. Good for my XEL stock.

Sorry Rolf, you can't escape from the facts

To correct a few claims in your post:

- The reason wind energy displaces fossil fuel generation is because wind plants have no fuel costs and very low operating costs, in contrast to much higher fuel and operating costs for fossil fuel plants. Grid operators use a market to select the lowest operating cost resources to meet electricity demand, so wind energy is always one of the first resources to be used, with or without the production tax credit. Wind energy displaces more expensive resources and drives electricity prices down, as documented by recent studies from Synapse Energy Economics showing that wind energy is saving Midwest consumers billions of dollars per year:
http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/SynapseReport.2013-05.EFC.Increa...
http://cleanenergytransmission.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Full-Repor...

- The national average capacity factor for wind is around 32%, and about 37% in the region that includes Minnesota. That is actually significantly higher than the 24% capacity factor for natural gas power plants in the U.S., comparable to the approximately 40% capacity factor for hydroelectric dams, and approaching the 57% capacity factor for coal plants.

- Last year wind energy provided more than 14% of the electricity in Minnesota, and almost 25% in Iowa and South Dakota, while nationwide the figure is expected to be over 4% this year. Wind energy has accounted for around 35% of all newly added electricity generating capacity over the last five years, and is growing as fast or faster than other resources such as nuclear and natural gas have historically.

- The subsidies to fossil and nuclear sources have been far larger than the federal support given to renewables, according to the nuclear industry's own tally:
http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/newplants/whitepape...

Michael Goggin,
American Wind Energy Association

Let's hope

As a taxpayer and rate payer I hope the best for wind power. Unlike some I have no vested interest.
I hope the operators are setting aside funds for disposal in 25 years.

Coal Subsidies

I guess we are ignoring the MASSIVE subsidies—externalities, public land giveaways, tax credits, subsidized railroads, etc.— that have been given to coal for years and years. Wind energy tax credits and subsidies don't even compare.

Cites please

Just the top five subsidies will do.

Coal is a major environment problem

But the business does not depend on subsidies. It is a profitable tax paying business.

Subsidies

I haven't dug up any U.S. figures yet, but worldwide we're looking at about $409 billion for coal and gas subsidies. Renewable is about $60 billion.

There is an enormous amount

There is an enormous amount of energy in the wind, but there is a very small amount hitting a given windmill. Directly harvesting wind and solar energy will always be hard because it is too diffuse. Storage is also a problem, but harvesting energy from a diffuse source will always be the hardest problem to overcome. Entropy is the enemy of renewable power, and entropy always wins (2nd law of Thermodynamics).

Real subsidy numbers - Energy Information Administration

On a per barel of oil equivalent, total subsidy for oil and gas - $0.28; coal $0.39; nuclear $1.79; biofuels $20.37; Wind $32.59; and solar $63.00.

Fossil fuels have been concentrated by nature. The so-called renewables are diffuse and can't survive in the market place without direct subsidies. Don't dig too deep for fake numbers.