Wind energy’s growth and cost reductions have come at the perfect time for states seeking low-cost, scale-able ways to cut pollution from power plants. Pending limits on greenhouse gas pollution from power plants give states a choice in how to achieve the required reductions.
Thanks to drastic cost reductions, wind power is already making important contributions to reducing pollution. Technological improvements and economies of scale have driven the cost of wind energy down by more than half over the last five years.
With these cost reductions, wind power has grown into a mainstream energy source. Wind power accounted for 31 percent of newly installed power plant capacity in the United States over the last five years. Wind now reliably provides more than 25 percent of the electricity in Iowa and South Dakota, and more than 12 percent in nine states.
Last year alone, U.S. wind energy cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 127 million short tons, the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road. Wind power also reduced health-harming sulfur dioxide pollution by 347 million pounds and smog-harming nitrogen oxides by 214 million pounds in 2013.
As the lowest-cost zero-emission energy source, wind energy must play a critical role in any cost-effective effort to reduce pollution. It’s one of the reasons why Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said “Wind energy will stand up next to any other form of energy when given a fair shake.”
Wind energy’s stable fuel price – zero – makes it even more economically attractive for ratepayers. Just as a fixed-rate mortgage protects homeowners from fluctuations in interest rates, wind energy protects consumers from fossil fuel price shocks. This past winter, wind energy saved consumers millions by continuing to produce when fossil fuel prices spiked and power plants of all types failed in the cold. Similarly, while some of the emissions reductions that occurred in 2012 were reversed in 2013 as the price of natural gas rose above historic lows, wind plants will continue to provide sustained pollution reductions for decades to come.
Because the pending regulations on power plant emissions do not take effect until 2020, America must ensure that its low-cost wind manufacturing capacity does not erode in the interim. With more than 50,000 U.S. jobs and 550 manufacturing facilities in 43 states, the stakes are high. Policies like the renewable Production Tax Credit provide essential policy stability for the wind energy industry.
In a virtuous circle, policies like the Production Tax Credit encourage private-sector deployment of wind energy, which drives the economies of scale and technology improvements that reduce wind energy costs, enabling further deployment, which further brings down costs, and so on. Moreover, analysis indicates that the tax relief provided by the Production Tax Credit more than pays for itself by stimulating additional economic activity that generates enough tax revenue to offset the value of the credit.
We must not take our foot off the accelerator just as we approach the clean energy future we so urgently need. Congress should extend the Production Tax Credit as soon as possible so that our best tools for cutting pollution, the American ingenuity and manufacturing skill to put our world-class wind resources to use, are still there when we need them.
Jim Reilly is the Senior Vice President of Federal Legislative Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association