Department of Energy has a New Vision for Wind Power

Department of Energy Wind Vision

In 2008, President George W. Bush’s Department of Energy released a groundbreaking report that showed how the United States could reach 20% of total electric generation from wind power by the year 2030. Today, President Barack Obama’s Department of Energy has released an updated version of the “20% by 2030″ report. The new report, ”Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States”, accounts for the success the wind industry has enjoyed over the past seven years, evaluates some continued barriers to expanded wind power opportunities, and outlines a path whereby every state in the country has a wind farm installed by the year 2050.

In the original 2008 report, several states in the Southeast were anticipated to have no wind farms installed. However, since then, wind turbine technology has substantially improved, with higher hub heights and longer blades. Now wind power is cost competitive in just about every state in the country.

Some of the scenario details of the Wind Vision report include:

  • 318 Gigawatts (GW) of land-based (onshore) wind power are installed by 2050;
  • 86 GW of offshore wind power are installed by 2050;
  • 20% wind power by 2030 (in keeping with President Bush’s original proposal); and,
  • 35% wind power by 2050.

Some 90% of Americans want the amount of energy generated by solar and wind power to increase, and the Wind Vision report outlines some of the benefits of greatly expanding wind power. Some of those benefits include:

  • Saving consumers $13.7 billion in electric costs;
  • Avoiding 21,700 premature deaths;
  • Avoiding 2,459,600 school loss days due to ozone effects; and,
  • Creating  600,000 wind related gross jobs spread across the nation.

According to the report, the South benefits from new low-cost wind power, with all states generating at least some in-state wind power by 2050. Importantly, the report scenario does not require any states in the South to develop a renewable energy mandate, or Renewable Portfolio Standard.

While wind power costs are dropping considerably, some political headwinds still exist. The Wind Vision creates a clear case for an extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), an important incentive for the wind industry that has garnered bipartisan support since the early 1990s. Also, the Wind Vision explicitly calls for additional transmission capacity to move high value, low cost wind power around the country. By 2030, the report cites the need for between 11,000 and 33,000 circuit miles of new transmission. That would result in an approximately 10% increase of the existing transmission network by 2030. High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission projects, such as the Clean Line Energy Partner’s Plains and Eastern project, could help move substantial amounts of wind power to the Southeast.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is bullish on wind energy opportunities for the Southeast. Already, at least a dozen wind farms have been proposed in the Southeast, and power companies are buying several gigawatts worth of wind power from out-of-region. The Southeast can outperform the estimates in the Wind Vision, but doing so will require strong support for wind power. If you would like to see more wind power for the South, please consider sending a letter to the Department of Energy, and a separate letter to Congress.

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