The new Clean Power Plan requires states to find ways to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Kansas can meet the terms of the plan – and protect Kansans’ health and wallets in the process – by pulling the clean energy it needs literally out of thin air. In other words, by turning to wind power.
The cost of wind has fallen nearly 60 percent in the past five years. Better technology and parts more conveniently manufactured in America, including in five factories in Kansas, have helped reduce costs. That makes wind-generated electricity one of the least expensive electricity sources in the United States.
The unique ability for utilities to lock in stable prices for wind power for up to 25 years can help them offset future price spikes for fuel. Indeed, the Energy Information Administration finds that wind energy can play a critical role in hedging against price increases when complying with the Clean Power Plan.
Consumers can rely on wind energy to keep the lights on and the electrical grid running. Iowa and South Dakota generate nearly 30 percent of their electricity year-round from wind. Grid operators are already used to adjusting to wide swings in demand for electricity, as when millions of people come home from work and turn up the air conditioning. Electricity from wind plants displaces the most expensive power plants that are currently operating, which are typically the least efficient fossil-fired plants.
And while conventional power plants can suddenly trip off, the gradual and predictable changes in wind power are far easier to accommodate.
More wind farms and factories will also bring much-needed economic development to Kansas. There are already 73,000 workers in the U.S. wind industry, including up to 2,000 in Kansas. Wind power has brought $5.5 billion in private investment to the state. It’s also benefited Kansas farmers, ranchers and other landowners, who receive a total of nearly $9 million a year from leasing their land for turbines.
In addition to jobs and local economic benefits, there are wind’s environmental benefits. Because wind power does not produce smog or other airborne pollutants, it’s better for our health. One study found that if wind’s share of U.S. power production expanded to 35 percent, our nation could avoid 22,000 premature deaths by 2050. The wind power installed in Kansas already avoids the carbon pollution produced by 957,000 cars.
But wind power does more for the environment than just scale back pollution. Conventional power plants are among the heaviest users of water, mostly for cooling. Wind turbines produce energy without any water. This can help areas affected by water shortages or extreme drought.
For all these reasons, Kansas should pick wind power as a substantial part of its strategy for complying with the new Clean Power Plan. That would be a win-win for our environment and economy.
Mike Garland is chairman of the board of directors of the American Wind Energy Association.