Monday, December 8, 2014

We Can and Should Obtain 30% of Our Electricity from Wind Power by 2030

By Amelia Schlusser, Staff Attorney

A new report released by Environment Oregon’s Research and Policy Center calls for the U.S. to obtain 30% of our electricity from wind power by 2030. The report, titled More Wind, Less Warming: How American Wind Energy’s Rapid Growth Can Help Solve Global Warming, highlights wind power’s potential to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and help mitigate global climate change. According to Environment Oregon’s report, wind energy prevented 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in 2013. If we succeed in procuring 30% of our electricity from wind power, Americans could prevent 705 million tons of CO2 emissions per year by 2025 and 968 million tons per year by 2030. These reductions are equivalent to eliminating emissions from 254 coal-fired power plants in 2030, which represents a 40% reduction in power-sector emissions below 2005 levels.

Wind power has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade, and currently provides 4% of electricity in the United States. While we’ve made impressive progress in recent years, the deployment potential for new wind resources is incredible. Environment Oregon’s report emphasizes that it is both economically and technologically feasible to obtain 30% of our electricity from wind power by 2030. From an economic standpoint, wind power is currently cost competitive with natural gas-fired power in many parts of the country. As wind development has increased, costs have decreased—the levelized cost of new wind facilities decreased by 58% over the past five years. Wind power is also immune from potential price increases associated with fuel price volatility or emissions regulation, so wind power should become increasingly cost competitive over time. 

From a technical standpoint, the grid can support substantially more wind power than we currently transmit. Rapid wind energy deployment in parts of the country has shown that the grid is capable of integrating large quantities of wind power, and Iowa and South Dakota currently obtain more than 25% of their electricity from wind. According to NREL, there currently are no technical barriers to integrating 35% wind and solar power onto the grid. In a separate report, NREL determined that if we improve the performance, capacity, and flexibility of our existing electrical grid, we could obtain 80% of our electricity from renewable resources by 2050.

So what do we need to do to make the 30% wind power by 2030 goal a reality? Environment Oregon recommends that 1) EPA should strengthen and finalize its Clean Power Plan, and state implementation plans should maximize the use of renewable energy resources, such as wind power, to comply with their emission goals; 2) states should adopt ambitious renewable electricity standards mandating increased procurement of wind power; 3) state and federal agencies should work together to facilitate offshore wind power development; and 4) the federal government should renew and extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to incentivize wind power development.

These policies would have a dramatic impact on wind power development in the United States. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would encourage states to retire aging, inefficient coal plants, and replace these facilities with clean energy resources. State renewable electricity standards or renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) have already had a massive impact on wind development in a number of states, and a number of utilities cite their state RPS obligations as the primary driver of their planned wind capacity additions (see, for example, PacifiCorp’s 2013 IRP). Twenty-nine states currently have RPSs, but only California, Colorado, and Hawaii have set mandates of 30% or more. Many RPS requirements have already been met, and NREL doesn’t expect these standards to support more than one to three gigawatts (GW) of new wind development per year through 2020. Considering that nine states only have renewable energy goals and twelve states have neither renewable energy standards nor goals, there is room for significant policy advancement in this area. California, for example, already has one of the most ambitious RPSs in the nation, mandating that 33% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. Yet the California PUC will consider increasing this percentage through a rulemaking early next year. 

Finally, the federal PTC has provided a critical incentive for wind energy development and deployment in the U.S., and the tax credit’s 2013 expiration may prove devastating for the American wind energy industry (the House of Representatives is currently considering extending the PTC, but only for the remaining few weeks of 2014). NREL recently evaluated scenarios in which the PTC was either extended or allowed to expire, and found that if the PTC is not renewed, wind deployment will average between three and five GW per year through 2020, but if the tax credits are renewed, deployment will average between five and fifteen GW per year through 2020. 

Adopting and implementing these policy recommendations will put us on track to meet Environment Oregon’s goal of obtaining 30% of our electricity from wind power by 2030. This goal is realistic and achievable, and will help set us on a course towards a clean, sustainable energy future.

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