Report: Clean Air, Healthy FamiliesRepower Pennsylvania

More Wind, Less Warming

How American Wind Energy's Rapid Growth can Help Solve Global Warming
Released by: PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center

Wind power is on the rise across America. The United States generates 24 times more electricity from wind power than we did a decade ago – providing clean, fossil fuel-free energy that helps the nation do its part in the fight against global warming. 

In 2013 alone, wind power averted 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions – the equivalent of taking more than 27 million vehicles off the road for a year. 

But those emission reductions are just the beginning of what can be achieved. 

America has enough wind energy potential to power the nation 10 times over. Taking advantage of just a fraction of that potential to achieve the goal of getting 30 percent of America’s electricity from the wind by 2030 would cut carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants by 36 percent compared to federal forecasts – all while helping to enable states to meet and exceed the carbon dioxide emission reduction called for by the EPA’s draft Clean Power Plan.

Electricity generation is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. By implementing public policies that increase the production of wind energy, both on- and offshore, America can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of tons each year and help put the nation – and the world – on a course to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.  

Wind power has already significantly reduced carbon pollution.

After more than a decade of rapid growth, wind energy now accounts for 4 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

In 2013, wind power displaced more than 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Since 2001, wind power has displaced more than 620 million metric tons of carbon pollution -- more than a year’s worth of CO2 emissions from the entire country of Canada.

Nine states – Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Oregon – now generate more than 12 percent of their total electricity with wind power.

Wind power capacity in Iowa and South Dakota now supplies more than a quarter of all in-state electricity generation.

 

By aggressively expanding wind energy, America can displace even more carbon pollution – putting the nation and the world on track to addressing global warming. 

America has enough wind energy potential to power the nation more than 10 times over, with a great deal of that potential being in offshore areas. Offshore wind energy has provided Europe with increasing amounts of clean energy for a decade and several projects are poised for development in the United States. 

If the nation were to set a course for obtaining 30 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2030, America could avert nearly 712 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2025 and 1 billion metric tons per year by 2030.  That’s the equivalent of:

  • 25 percent of forecast U.S. power plant carbon dioxide emissions in 2025 and 36 percent of forecast emissions in 2030;
  • 11 percent of America’s current (2012) annual emissions of global warming pollution by 2025 and 15 percent of emissions by 2030;
  • 2 percent of the world’s current (2012) annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 2025 and 3 percent of current global emissions by 2030. 
  • Reducing U.S. power plant emissions to 41 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA Clean Power Plan calls for reductions in power plant emissions of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

If American wind power expanded at a linear rate under this scenario, the cumulative carbon dioxide savings between now and 2030 would be just short of 10 billion metric tons -- that’s nearly equal to the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by China in 2012.

Rapid expansion of wind energy is feasible and affordable. The cost of wind energy is now comparable with new natural gas power plants in regions with the best resources, and several U.S. Department of Energy, grid operator, and utility reports have found that the electric grid can accommodate much more wind energy than we currently generate.

Offshore wind energy is also poised to contribute. The U.S. Department of Energy found that “under conservative assumptions about transmission, fossil fuel supply, and supply chain availability, the United States could feasibly build 54 GW of offshore wind power by 2030.” If reached, this level of offshore wind would avert 125 million tons of carbon dioxideemissions in 2030. 

Federal and state governments should use the tools available to them to expand wind energy – both on land and offshore – and ensure that large amounts of wind energy can be integrated into the grid.

The federal government should adopt and strengthen the Clean Power Plan – the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed plan to reduce U.S. global warming pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Wind energy should play a significant role in states’ plans to meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan.

State and federal governments should set ambitious goals for expansion of wind energy, along the lines of the 30 percent target evaluated in this report, and adopt renewable electricity standards consistent with those goals. 

State and federal agencies should coordinate to expedite the siting of offshore wind facilities in areas that avoid environmental harm. 

The federal government should help states expand wind by renewing and extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which helped drive the explosion of wind growth over the last ten years. 

Wind power is on track to cut as much carbon pollution in Pennsylvania as 4 coal-fired power plants, or 3,689,000 cars produce in a year by 2030, according to a new analysis by the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center.   If wind continues to grow at its current rate nationally, it will be able to supply 30% of our nation’s electricity needs by 2030.