Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity pol- lutes our air, contributes to global warming, and consumes vast amounts of water—harm- ing our rivers and lakes and leaving less water for other uses. In contrast, wind energy produces no air pollution, makes no contribution to global warming, and uses no water.
America’s wind power capacity has quadrupled in the last five years and wind energy now generates as much electricity as is used every year in Georgia. Thanks to wind energy, America uses less water for power plants and produces less climate-altering carbon pollution.
Wind energy displaced about 84.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012—more global warming-inducing carbon dioxide pollu- tion than is produced annually in Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina or Washington state. Wind energy also saves enough water nationwide to meet the domestic water needs of more than a million people.
America has vast wind energy resources, and there is still plenty of room for growth. But the pending expiration of the federal renewable energy produc- tion tax credit and investment tax credit threatens the future expansion of wind power. To protect the environment, federal and state governments should continue and expand policies that support wind energy.
Wind energy is on the rise in the United States.
Electricity generated with wind power quadrupled in the last five years, from about 34,500 gigawatt- hours (GWh) in 2007 to more than 140,000 GWh at the end of 2012—or as much electricity as is used each year in Georgia. (See Figure ES-1.)
Wind energy was the largest source of new electricity capacity added to the grid in 2012.
Nine states now have enough wind turbines to supply 12 percent or more of their annual electric- ity needs in an average year, with Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas now possessing enough wind turbines to supply more than 20 percent of their annual electricity needs. By displacing dirty electricity from fossil fuel- fired power plants, wind energy saves water and reduces pollution. In 2012, wind energy helped the United States:
Avoid 84.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution—or as much pollution as is produced by more than 17 million of today’s passenger vehicles in a year. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide, the leading global warming pollut- ant. In the United States, warmer temperatures caused by global warming have already increased the frequency and severity of heat waves and heavy downpours, resulting in more intense wildfires, floods, droughts, and tropical storms and hurricanes.
Save enough water to supply the annual domestic water needs of more than a million people. Power plants use water for cooling, reduc- ing the amount of water available for irrigation, wildlife, recreation or domestic use. More water is withdrawn from U.S. lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers for the purpose of cooling power plants than for any other purpose.
Avoid 79,600 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOX) and 98,400 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions. Nitrogen oxides are a key ingredient of smog, which contributes to asthma and other respira- tory problems; power plants are responsible for about 15 percent of the nation’s total nitrogen oxide (NOX) pollution each year. Power plants also produce about 60 percent of all sulfur dioxide pollution, which contributes to acid rain. Finally, coal-fired power plants emit heavy metals such as mercury, a potent neurotoxicant that can cause developmental and neurological disorders in babies and children. Nearly two-thirds of all airborne mercury pollution in the United States in 2010 came from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.
If America were to continue to add onshore wind capacity at the rate it did from 2007 to 2012, and take the first steps toward development of its massive potential for offshore wind, by 2018 wind energy will be delivering the following benefits:
Averting a total of 157 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually—or more carbon dioxide pollution than was produced by Georgia, Michigan or New York in 2011.
Saving enough water to supply the annual domes- tic water needs of 2.1 million people—roughly
as many people as live in the city of Houston and more than live in Philadelphia, Phoenix or San Diego.
Averting more than 121,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution and 194,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution each year.
Wind energy’s success in reducing air pollution and saving water will continue to grow if America makes a stable, long-term commitment to clean energy at the local, state and national levels. Specific policies that are essential to the develop- ment of wind energy include:
• Strong renewable electricity standards. A strong renewable electricity standard (RES) helps support wind energy development by requiring utilities to obtain a percentage of the electricity they provide to consumers from renewable sources. These standards help ensure that wind energy produc- ers have a market for the electricity they generate and protect consumers from the sharp swings in energy prices that accompany over-reliance on fossil fuels. Today, 29 states have renewable electricity standards—other states and the federal government should follow their lead.
• Continued coordination and collaboration between state and federal agencies to expedite siting of offshore wind facilities in areas that avoid environmental harm.
•The federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit (ITC). The PTC provides an income tax credit of 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for utility-scale wind energy producers for 10 years, while the ITC covers up to 30 percent of the capital cost of new renewable energy investments. Wind energy developers can take one of the two credits, which help reduce the financial risk of renewable energy investments and create new financing opportunities for wind energy. Both the ITC and the PTC, however, are scheduled to expire at the end of 2013.
Over the past decade, the oil and gas industry has fused two technologies—hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling—in a highly polluting effort to unlock oil and gas in underground rock formations across the United States.
Global warming is one of the most profound threats of our time, and we’re already start- ing to feel the impacts – especially when it comes to extreme weather. From Hurricane Sandy to devastating droughts and deadly heat waves, ex- treme weather events threaten our safety, our health and our environment, and scientists predict things will only get worse for future generations unless we cut the dangerous global warming pollution that is fueling the problem. Power plants are the largest source of global warming pollution in the United States, responsible for 41 percent of the nation’s production of carbon dioxide pollution, the leading greenhouse gas driving global warming.
America’s power plants are among the most significant sources of carbon dioxide pollution in the world. The 50 most polluting U.S. power plants emit more than 2 percent of the world’s energy related carbon dioxide pollution – or more pollution than every nation except six worldwide.
Despite their enormous contribution to global warming, U.S. power plants do not face any federal limits on carbon dioxide pollution. To protect our health, our safety and our environment from the worst impacts of global warming, the United States should clean up the dirtiest power plants.
A small handful of the dirtiest power plants produce a massive and disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution.
In 2011, the U.S. power sector contributed 41 percent of all U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading pollutant driving global warming.
There are nearly 6,000 electricity generating facilities in the United States, but most of the global warming pollution emitted by the U.S. power sector comes from a handful of exceptionally dirty power plants. For example, about 30 percent of all powersector carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 came from the 50 dirtiest power plants; about half came from the 100 dirtiest plants; and about 90 percent came from the 500 dirtiest plants. (See Figure ES-1.)
The dirtiest power plant in the United States, Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer, produced more than 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011 – more than the total energy-related emissions of Maine. (See Table ES-1.)
Dirty power plants produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution – especially given the relatively small share of total electricity they produce. For example, despite producing 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions, the 50 dirtiest power plants only produced 16 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2011.
Since 2007 , federally declared weather-related disasters in the United States have affected counties housing 243 million people – or nearly four out of five Americans. The breadth and severity of weather-related disasters in the United States – coupled with the emerging science on the potential for global warming to exacerbate some types of extreme weather – suggest that the United States should take urgent action to reduce emissions of global warming pollution, while taking steps to prepare for the dangers posed by climate change.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a central strategy in the Northeastern states’ efforts to protect the region from global warming. The program, which took effect in 2009, has succeeded in cutting carbon dioxide emissions and demonstrating the effectiveness of cap-and-trade as a global warming solution while helping to sustain a growing regional economy.