Letter: Harvesting Oregon wind energy keeps our air clean, creates economic benefits

By Tom Kiernan /

Power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and with the EPA unveiling new rules regulating the amount of carbon pollution released by existing power plants, many Americans should know what can be done to meet these standards, including ways we can do so without significantly raising electricity rates or hurting the economy.

Fortunately, there’s good news. We don’t have to give up economic growth in exchange for keeping our air clean. Wind power is already working to achieve these goals as it is one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways to help us reduce carbon emissions within the electric power sector while also driving significant economic development.

A prime example of this fact can be found right here in Oregon. The Beaver State ranks in the top 10 states in which wind energy is helping to reduce carbon emissions. Wind power installed here avoids 1.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions a year — the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road. At the same time wind has attracted $6.2 billion in capital investment to Oregon and supports up to 2,000 good-paying jobs.

Continued leadership in Oregon on clean energy warrants praise because it demonstrates that wind and clean energy technologies can improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions both cost-effectively and reliably and importantly on the state’s own terms by applying best local solutions and tools.

One MWh of wind energy avoids 0.75 tons, or 1,500 pounds, of carbon dioxide emissions on average. A typical 2 MW wind turbine avoids around 4,000-4,500 tons of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of more than 700 cars.

Across the U.S. in 2013, wind power reduced carbon emission by 127 million tons, the equivalent of reducing power sector emissions by more than 5 percent, or taking 20 million cars off the road.

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, by obtaining 30 percent of the U.S. electricity needs from wind, we will cut power sector emissions 37 percent. More than a dozen utility and independent grid operator studies have already found wind can reliably provide a larger share of our electricity needs, which will in turn, reduce emissions in even larger amounts.

Wind keeps the air clean by avoiding more than just carbon dioxide emissions. Wind energy reduces other harmful air pollutants including 347 million pounds a year of acid rain-producing sulfur dioxide and 214 pounds a year of smog-forming nitrogen dioxide. AWEA’s recently released white paper “The Clean Air Benefits of Wind Energy” dives deeper into all the ways wind power helps keep our air clean and benefits our environment.

Wind energy’s ability to reduce emissions comes as the industry has improved wind turbine technology and lowered costs by 43 percent in four years.

The Energy Information Agency and financial advisory firm Lazard find wind is one of the lowest cost options for new electric generation, and utilities across the Pacific Northwest agree.

We don’t have to sacrifice higher electricity bills in exchange by reducing carbon emissions with wind power either. New data from the Department of Energy shows ratepayers in states with the most wind energy have saved the most on their electric bills. And multiple studies from independent groups show adding wind power into our energy mix saves billions of dollars while maintaining electricity reliability.

American wind power fosters economic development in all 50 states, not just the ones where wind is significantly reducing carbon emissions. And wind attracts up to $25 billion a year in private investment into our national economy while powering a domestic manufacturing supply chain of more than 560 facilities across 43 states and supporting over 50,000 jobs.

By providing stable, long-term policy that appropriately values carbon-free electricity, state and federal governments can ensure wind power continues to lead the way in by reducing carbon emissions today, and for generations to come.

— Tom Kiernan is the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.