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January 22, 2014

Sierra and Tierra: A Gale of Wind Energy Good News

By Javier Sierra

A gale of good news is hitting both the wind industry and the future of the planet.

The new year started out with two world records. Spain became the first country ever to get more energy from wind than any other source during a complete year in 2013, with a 21.1 percent share at 55 gigawatts (GW). According to Spain's Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2013, this clean energy was able to bring the price of electricity from $150 per megawatt (MW)/hour down to $7 per MV/hour.

Wind farm in Southern Spain
Wind farm in Southern Spain (Photo: J. Sierra)

And in December, Denmark became the first country ever to generate more than half of its energy from wind, a total of 54.8 percent. Specifically, on December 21, wind fulfilled that country's entire energy demand, and over the course of the year, it produced one-third of the consumed total.

The good news also abounds here at home. In Texas, during the extreme cold spell that gripped almost the entire country during the first week of the year, wind energy saved the day for a grid that was overwhelmed by demand. On January 7, when several power plants shut down, wind energy from western Texas avoided dangerous blackouts throughout the state. This is the logical result of Texas having added more wind energy to the grid than any other state.

And throughout the US, the breeze of good news has become a veritable gale. In 2012, the country's wind energy capacity surpassed 60 GV (enough to power 15 million homes), no other country installed more wind energy than the U.S., and wind added more power to the national grid than any other source, including natural gas.

It's no wonder then that the price of wind power is hitting record lows: 4 cents per KW/hour, 50 percent less than in 2009. It's also no wonder that the utility owned by Warren Buffett has invested $1 billion to purchase enough wind turbines in Iowa to generate 1,000 MW. 

The price of the alternative to adopting clean energy, on the other hand, is simply unacceptable. According to a Harvard University study, every year the costs of coal pollution -- also known as externalities -- hit $500 billion (one 5 followed by 11 zeros) in premature deaths, asthma, emphysema, heart disease, cancer and other factors. Big Coal pays nothing out of this huge price tag. They instead dump it on you, me, and the rest of the country.

Considering these arguments, it's simply astonishing that Congress has yet to renew the Production Tax Credit (PTC), one of the several tax incentives that invest in job creation in the clean energy industry. Wind alone supports 80,000 jobs in the US, and 72 percent of the equipment needed to build wind turbines is manufactured in our country.

The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, calls the U.S. Capitol home. Each year, oil, coal, and gas companies receive up to $52 billion in subsidies; that is, a gift from the taxpayers: you, me, and everyone else.

Tell Congress that renewing the PTC is crucial for the wind industry to continue its smooth sailing.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

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