EPA to Limit CO2 Pollution, U.S. Wind Energy Already Helps States to Comply
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to release its first-ever proposed rule limiting carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants on June 2. The good news is wind energy is already helping nearly every state make progress toward whatever reductions the EPA will require and is an affordable and reliable compliance option for further reductions.
A just published AWEA white paper, “The Clean Air Benefits of Wind Energy,” finds that wind energy is a widely-available, affordable, reliable, and rapidly scalable source of carbon emissions reductions. The paper, for the first time using the publicly available EPA AVERT modeling tool, quantifies on a state-by-state basis the emissions reductions attributable to the current fleet of wind turbines in the U.S.
“Wind energy is one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways states can comply with the forthcoming EPA rule limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “And the best part is that many of these states and their utilities are already familiar with the affordable, reliable product that wind energy provides. While the details are still to come, we’re confident that wind energy can play an even bigger role in helping states generate carbon-free energy and drive local economic development in the process.”
Among the key findings in the new report are:
- The 167.7 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of wind energy produced in the U.S. in 2013 reduced CO2 emissions by 126.8 million tons, the equivalent of reducing power sector emissions by more than 5 percent, or taking 20 million cars off the road.
- The top 10 states by volume of carbon reductions from wind energy are: Texas, Illinois, California, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Wyoming.
- States achieving a reduction in carbon emissions of 10 percent or more (compared to a 2011 baseline) from wind energy alone include California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington State, with Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming coming in just under 10%.
- Wind energy also currently reduces sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by nearly 347 million pounds per year and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions by 214 million pounds per year. These pollutants acidify lakes and streams, contribute to smog, and negatively impact public health.
- While other generation may need to ramp up or down to accommodate the variability of wind energy (and other far larger sources of variability on the power system like electricity demand and the sudden failure of large conventional generators), two recent studies from different regions in the U.S. document that such cycling has virtually no net effect on the emissions reductions from wind energy, with wind producing 99.8 percent of the carbon emissions savings expected of a zero emissions resource.
- More than a dozen utility and independent grid operator studies have found wind can reliably provide an even larger share of our electricity needs, which will, in turn, produce even larger emissions reductions. For example, National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) study for the Eastern U.S. found that obtaining 20 percent of electricity from wind energy would cut power sector carbon emissions by 25 percent, and 30 percent wind would reduce carbon emissions by 37 percent, relative to the baseline generation mix.
These important reductions in emissions from wind energy have come while the industry has improved technology and reduced costs by 43 percent in four years. The average hub height for a wind turbine is now just over 80 meters allowing access to better, steadier wind speeds. With this advancement both the EIA and Lazard find that wind energy is one of the lowest cost options for new electric generation. And utilities agree, in 2013 utilities signed 60 power purchase agreements for 8,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy. Between 2011 and 2013, wind energy was the primary choice for new power in the wind-rich regions of the Pacific Northwest, Plains states, and Midwest, providing over 60 percent of all new capacity.
“Wind energy is a proven generating resource that is available to help all states affordably and reliably achieve the carbon emission reductions to be proposed by the EPA soon,” said Kiernan.