Wind energy cuts fossil fuel use

Wind energy is playing an important role in protecting America’s environment.

Wind energy now provides more than 10 percent of the electricity in nine states, including more than 20 percent in Iowa and South Dakota.

America’s current wind energy fleet provides enough electricity to power 15 million homes, and is reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 95 million metric tons each year, the equivalent of taking 17.5 million cars off the road.

Every utility, government and independent grid operator study on the topic has confirmed that wind reduces fossil fuel use and pollution by as much or more than expected, in part because wind energy displaces the least efficient fossil-fired power plants first. A forthcoming report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory confirms that even large amounts of wind energy do not negatively affect the efficiency of fossil-fired power plants, based on data from real-time power plant emission monitors. This is confirmed by the fact that fossil power plant efficiency has held up better in states that have added more wind energy than in states that have added less.

In reality, it is more costly and challenging for grid operators to reliably accommodate the instantaneous and unexpected failures of large fossil and nuclear power plants than it is to accommodate the gradual and predictable changes in wind energy output. Grid operators who use efficient grid operating practices have found that large amounts of wind energy can be accommodated with almost zero increase in the need for the reserves that they have always used to accommodate fluctuations in electricity supply and demand.

A recent NREL review of all published literature on lifecycle emissions impacts concluded that wind energy’s negative impact is a few percent of that of fossil fuels, lower than nuclear, and even lower than nearly all other renewable energy resources.

MICHAEL GOGGIN. The author is manager of transmission policy for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C.