New study answers columnist’s questions, confirms wind energy’s environmental benefits


A recent Reuters opinion column by John Kemp and the report it references are simply asking questions that have already been answered, and the answer is that wind energy produces the expected pollution reductions because wind has virtually zero negative impact on the efficiency or emissions of fossil-fired power plants.

A forthcoming report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, due for release within weeks, used a massive body of real-world data from emission monitors at power plants to analyze the impact wind energy has on the efficiency and emissions of fossil-fired power plants. That analysis found that wind energy produces 99.8% of the carbon dioxide emission reductions that would be produced under 1:1 displacement of fossil fuel generation, even with wind and solar energy providing one quarter of all electricity on the power system.

In addition to directly displacing fossil fuel generation on a 1:1 basis, in many cases wind energy actually improved the average efficiency of the fossil-fired power plants that remained online by displacing the least efficient, and most expensive, power plants first. As a result, a scenario in which wind and solar energy provided 24-26 percent of the electricity in the Western U.S. reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 29-34 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions by 16-22 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions by 14-24 percent.

In contrast, the report mentioned in the Reuters opinion piece is simply an old literature review that concluded, based on the scant research done prior to that point in time, that any impacts from wind were “poorly understood” and more research was needed. Fortunately, the forthcoming NREL analysis has provided the answers that were being sought by the report mentioned in the Reuters piece.

It’s important to remind readers that numerous other studies and leading experts have confirmed that wind energy benefits consumers and the environment by displacing the most expensive and least efficient power plants. For example:

·         Electricity rates increased by twice as much in the 40 states with the least wind power between 2005 and 2010 as they did in the top 10 states for wind generation.

·         A May 2012 Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., report found that adding more wind power in the Midwest would lower overall energy costs for consumers, saving each ratepayer $63 to $200 per year.

·         John Kelley, Alabama Power's Director of Forecasting and Resource Planning, said of a 2012 contract by the utility to purchase wind from Kansas, “These agreements are good for our customers for one very basic reason, and that is, they save our customers money.”

·         The Midwest utility system operator recently noted (Nov. 23, 2012), “Wind represents one of the fuel choices that helps us manage congestion on the system and ultimately helps keep prices low for our customers and the end-use consumer.”

·         The 2010 New England Wind Integration Study found that wholesale electricity prices would decline anywhere from $5 per megawatt-hour (MWh) to $11 per MWh if the region generated 20% of its power from wind, depending on which sites were used for wind production. That study also found that producing 20% of the region’s electricity from wind would reduce total electric sector CO2 emissions by 25%.

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Fact check: Pacific Research Institute report by Benjamin Zycher filled with inaccuracies, January 28, 2013
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Lesser misstates facts at Heritage-Exelon anti-wind briefing, November 30, 2012
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Fourteen wind energy myths debunked, June 20, 2012
Fact check: Elliott off target on wind and cost savings, June 4, 2012
Fact check: Bell missteps on utility integration of wind power, May 24, 2012
New study: Wind power can save Midwestern consumers between $3 billion and $9.5 billion annually by 2020, May 23, 2012
Fact check: Lomborg lacking on wind's economics, emissions reductions, March 23, 2012
Fact check: Silverstein errs on wind's variability, emissions cuts, February 27, 2012
Fact check: Pavlak errs on wind integration, February 14, 2012
Fact check: Trzupek Washington Times op-ed off base on wind's cost, utility integration, January 25, 2012
More wind power and utility integration: A question already being resolved, October 19, 2011
After a scorching week, wind power lessons from the Texas heat wave, August 11, 2011
Wind energy integration: Some fundamental facts, June 23, 2011

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