Power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and the news media is buzzing over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to address that fact.
The EPA will be issuing the new rules by tapping into Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to regulate the amount of carbon pollution released by existing power plants. The new rules are good news for all Americans as we seek ways to keep our air clean for future generations and find solutions for our nation's climate challenge.
Fortunately, wind power is already working to acheive these goals as it is one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways to help us reduce carbon emissions with the electric power sector while also driving significant economic development.
Reducing carbon emissions
One MWh of wind energy avoids 0.75 tons, or 1,500 pounds, of carbon dioxide emissions on average. A typical 2 MW wind turbine avoids around 4,000-4,500 tons of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of more than 700 cars.
In 2013 installed wind power in the U.S. reduced CO2 emissions by 127 million tons, the equivalent of reducing power sector emissions by more than 5 percent, or taking 20 million cars off the road.
As wind power continues to scale up, it will continue reducing emissions for years to come. For example, by obtaining 30 percent of the U.S. electricity needs from wind, we will cut power sector emissions 37 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab.
AWEA's recently released white paper "The Clean Air Benefits of WInd Energy" dives deeper into all the ways wind power helps keep our air clean and benefits our environment.
Keeping our air clean while attracting economic growth, saving consumers money
Fortunately, we don't have to give up economic growth in exchange for keeping our air clean.
Wind energy's ability to reduce emissions comes as the industry has improved technology and reduced costs by 43 percent in four years.
The EIA and Lazard find wind is one of the lowest cost options for new electric generation and utilities agree. In 2013, utilities signed 60 power purchase agreements for 8,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy. Between 2011 and 2013, wind energy was the primary choice for new power in the wind-rich regions of the Pacific Northwest, Plains states, and Midwest, providing over 60 percent of all new capacity.
Information from the Department of Energy shows ratepayers in states with the most wind energy have saved the most on their electric bills. And multiple studies from independent groups show adding wind power into our energy mix saves billions of dollars while maintaining electricity reliability.
Altogether wind power fosters economic development in all 50 states and attracts up to $25 billion a year in private investment into our national economy. Wind powers a domestic manufacturing supply chain of more than 560 facilities across 43 states and over 50,000 jobs.
States leading the way
The top 10 states by volume of carbon reductions from wind energy are: Texas, Illinois, California, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Wyoming.
And states achieving a reduction in carbon emissions of 10 percent or more from wind energy alone include California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington State, with Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming coming in just under 10 percent.
Wind can do more
Wind energy can play an even greater role in reducing emissions reductions going forward. More than a dozen utility and independent grid operator studies have found wind can reliably provide an even larger share of our electricity needs, which will, in turn, reduce emissions in even larger amounts.
By providing stable, long-term policy that appropriately values carbon-free electricity, state and federal governments can ensure wind power continues reduce carbon emissions today and for many years to come.