Wind energy: Part of the renewable mix

kenplum2With the federal Clean Air Act requiring higher air quality standards, many fossil-fuel power plants will be closing or converting to other fuel sources. On trips to the western part of our country and abroad, especially to Germany, I am reminded of the significant role that wind plays in being used to generate clean and sustainable electricity. In 2014 wind power added significantly more new electricity for consumers than any other source in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to an American Wind Energy Association announcement last year the United States has more wind energy supplying its grid than any other country, enough to power 15.5 million American homes. Wind is the fifth largest electricity source in the U.S., generating 4.4 percent of all the electricity in this country. In Denmark, wind-produced electricity provides just under 40 percent of the nation’s power. Scotland has enough wind-produced electricity to supply all its homes. Wind power is the leading source of Spain’s electricity and is the largest component of Germany’s renewable sources that now constitute a quarter of its power. China leads the world in investments in wind power.

Among the states Texas, Iowa, California, and Oklahoma, each generated enough electricity from wind to power more than a million homes. Other states with significant wind capacity include Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington. Virginia and other eastern states do not make the list because they do not have as significant a wind resource. For Virginia, only off-shore and in the mountains mostly in the southwest is there wind sufficient to site a wind turbine farm. Dominion, the largest power provider in the Commonwealth, has invested in wind-powered electricity generation in West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, and in Virginia where it holds a lease from the federal government for off-shore wind development.

The success of wind-produced electricity in Europe has been realized from a feed-in tariff system that has effectively subsidized investments. In the United States the Production Tax Credit has been the primary federal tax incentive for wind energy. As all countries look for ways to save money these incentives are in danger at a time when wind energy is beginning to demonstrate its value.

Virginia is the first state to secure a wind energy research lease to build and operate turbines in federal waters. Dominion’s plan to build a pair of 6-megawatt test turbines about 24 nautical miles off-shore from Virginia Beach seems to be in trouble as bids to build the turbines are about twice that projected. The expectation has been that eventually there would be 300 turbines in the off-shore area. Stakeholders are currently at work to identify options to salvage the project.

Wind energy needs to be a part of the renewable mix of energy sources in Virginia and the nation. Congress needs to extend the federal tax credit that keeps our development of wind energy competitive with the rest of the world. Consumers need to be open to buying wind and other renewable energies even if there is a cost premium. Our air quality depends on it.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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