Opinion

No Surprise: Wind Energy is Cheap and Reliable

Reliability and cost: these are the top two things that grid operators, utilities and consumers think about most when it comes to our nation’s electric system.  Thanks to some amazing innovations in wind turbine technology in recent years, wind energy is growing rapidly, increasingly becoming an important part of our electric mix.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which is the largest regional transmission organization in North America, manages the electric grid for 15 states in the Midwest and south-central region of the country. MISO has been successfully integrating wind into the grid, without storage, for more than a decade.  In fact, on January 27, 2016, a record-setting 12,719.96 megawatts of wind were on MISO’s system. At one point last year, wind supplied over 25 percent of MISO’s electric demand.

While wind’s output may be variable, it is predictable. Outages at conventional power plants occur suddenly and unexpectedly, removing large amounts of electricity from the grid without even a hint at what’s coming.

Changes in wind output, however, are much more gradual and occur over many hours. Wind forecasting technologies make variations more predictable. This gives grid operators ample time to plan.  Furthering the ability to reliably integrate renewable resources are technological advancements like real-time dispatch, which allows other generators to fill in the gaps and ensure reliability. Of course, a robust transmission system makes this process cheaper and more effective.

Using wind to create our electricity saves consumers money, too. MISO has previously explained: “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. When we have significant quantities of wind being generated, we use less of other, more expensive, generation types to keep the system in balance.”

According to data compiled by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), wind’s costs are two-thirds less than just six years ago, thanks in large part to significant technological advancements that enable turbines to capture more energy from the wind, even at lower speeds.

Last year, asset management firm Lazard, Inc., released a study indicating that wind energy is the lowest-cost source of energy generation, even without tax incentives. And, with the recent extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC), there are even more savings to be had.

Xcel Energy, the nation’s number one wind power provider (and has been for 11 years running), also sees the savings that incorporating renewables can provide to their customers. In their 2016 supplemental Integrated Resource Plan, Xcel explained that the recent extension of the PTC/ITC makes renewables even cheaper – indeed, Congressional action to extend these tax credits means that the 1,800 megawatts of wind and 1,400 megawatts of solar they plan to add over the next 15 years will cost $202 million less than originally anticipated.

With costs dropping and the reliability concern successfully overcome, it should be no surprise that wind energy was America’s largest source of new electric generation in 2015. All of the evidence shows wind energy is a clean, renewable, reliable, and cost-effective source of electrical generation for America.

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