While there is a rightful discussion on whether Athens and Grafton are the right locations for an industrial wind farm, the wind industry around the country is growing in leaps and bounds.
The numbers are staggering: At the beginning of the year, 88,000 Americans were employed in the wind industry, an increase of 20 percent over last year. "Strong job growth coincided with wind ranking number one as America's leading source of new generating capacity last year, outpacing solar and natural gas," wrote Paul Dvorak, for WindPower Engineering. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "wind turbine technician" ranks as the fastest-growing occupation in the nation.
The American Wind Energy Association estimates that by 2030, there will be 380,000 Americans working in the industry. At the same time, the cost of producing wind turbines is dropping and new technologies are addressing the issues of those who live near wind farms.
States such as Colorado and Texas are taking advantage of their prairies and plains to switch from polluting fossil fuels to renewables such as wind power.
"An investment in the wind power industry and in wind projects generates new jobs, economic development in rural counties and clean air benefits to all Coloradans," noted Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in a press release announcing a new Vestas wind turbine component factory near Denver.
According to Dvorak, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Colorado and Kansas are the top five states with wind energy employment. Maine comes in at a close sixth. "Overall, 70 percent of wind farms are located in low-income counties, supplying them with an economic boost. Wind developers pay a growing total of $222 million a year in land lease payments to U.S. farmers, ranchers and other rural landowners."
By the end of 2013, according to Observ'ER, America was generating 141 terawatts of electricity, more than 25 percent of the world's total electricity generated by wind turbines. In 2015, the industry added 8,598 megawatts of electric generating capacity across 20 states, wrote Dvorak. "An additional 9,400 MW of wind capacity was under construction as of the start of 2016, with another 4,900 MW in advanced stages of development."
But that's not even close to meeting the nation's energy demands. In 2015, Americans consumed 4,087 terawatt hours of electricity. In a 2010 study, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported over 10 million megawatts of wind resources in the U.S., enough to power the equivalent of the nation's total electricity needs 10 times over.
While we still have a long way to go before renewables can replace nuclear power and fossil fuels, some states are exceeding expectations. Bruce Finley, writing for the Denver Post, noted Colorado's 1,880 turbines "generated 67 percent of Xcel Energy's Colorado-made electricity one morning in November and 54 percent for two 24-hour periods in October — feats unmatched around the nation ..."
According to Finley, Xcel supplies 65 percent of Colorado residents and currently can provide 2,566 megawatts of electricity from wind, compared with 7,800 megawatts from all sources. More than half of Xcel's electricity comes from coal. Less than 2 percent comes from solar sources.
Texas is also exceeding benchmarks.
"Xcel Energy, the main utility in Colorado, has satisfied over 66 percent of its demand for electricity with wind at times," wrote Dvorak. In the last several weeks, at certain points in time wind provided more than 48 percent of the electricity on the main Texas grid and on the large interstate grid to its north, the Southwest Power Pool."
But it's not just about supplying power to America; it's also about curbing climate change emissions and making the air healthier to breath. Each turbine eliminated the production of 4,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, equal to 900 cars worth, hDvorak notes. "Americans can breathe easier due to pollution-free, renewable wind energy displacing harmful emissions from other energy sources."
Standing in the way of large-scale renewable energy facilities is our outdated electrical grid, which is in dire need of a massive infusion of federal dollars, like so much of the nation's crumbling infrastructure. And, of course, many people around the nation don't want wind farms in their backyards. While their concerns need to be taken into consideration, all Americans need to understand that if they consume energy, they need to do their part, too. Which just might mean a turbine on the ridgeline or a solar farm in the field next door.