Comment: Wind energy keeps costs low and improves reliability

Source: By Michael Goggin, AWEA • Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2014

Harvesting homegrown wind power improves our energy security and reliability by diversifying our energy mix and keeping energy costs low for consumers. For Americans to continue reaping these benefits, however, Congress must extend the renewable Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit as soon as possible. That will provide wind power with the critical policy stability Congress has provided to other energy sources for the last 100 years.

Wind energy currently provides enough electricity to power the equivalent of 15.5 million average American homes. Iowa and South Dakota produced more than 25 percent of their electricity from wind last year, with a total of nine states above 12 percent and 17 states at more than five percent. At times wind energy has supplied more than 60 percent of the electricity on the main Colorado power system, and nearly 40 percent on the main Texas system.

The Texas and Upper Midwest grid operators each reliably accommodate more than 10,000 MW of wind energy on their power systems. The Texas grid operator has found that amount of wind is reliably accommodated with less than 50 MW of additional fast-acting reserves on average, while the Midwest operator explains that the incremental need for those reserves due to wind is “little to none.”

By a large margin, the most expensive challenge for grid operators is accommodating the abrupt failures of large conventional power plants. Data from the Texas grid operator indicate that holding reserves for conventional power plants’ failures costs 17 times more than the total cost of the reserves for wind power, even with wind energy providing 10 percent of the electricity on the power system.

During this winter’s cold snaps, wind energy provided large amounts of very valuable electricity when grid operators needed it most. Wind energy also helped by offsetting natural gas consumption at gas-fired power plants, keeping natural gas prices in check.

Grid operators in California, Nebraska, the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes, New York, and New England all released data showing that wind power provided critical energy when they needed it most this winter. These events illustrate that all energy sources experience failures, so a diverse mix of resources is critical for reliability.

More than a dozen utility and independent grid operator studies have found wind can reliably provide an even larger share of our electricity. PJM, the grid operator for the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states, just studied the impacts of increasing its use of wind energy by a factor of 15, and found the “PJM system, with adequate transmission and ancillary services in the form of Regulation, will not have any significant issue absorbing the higher levels of renewable energy penetration considered in the study.”

Thanks to wind turbines’ sophisticated power electronics, they provide many electric reliability services as well as or better than conventional power plants.  The utility Xcel Energy sometimes uses its wind plants’ exceedingly fast response to meet its total system need for dispatchable resources.  Wind plants meet a higher standard and far exceed the ability of conventional power plants to “ride-through” power system disturbances, which is essential for maintaining reliability when large conventional power plants break down.

Thanks to its zero fuel cost, wind energy is also uniquely well-positioned to protect consumers from energy price spikes. At least 15 studies by independent grid operators, state governments, and academic experts have found wind energy drives electricity prices down. For example, a 2013 Synapse Energy Economics report found that doubling the use of wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states would save consumers $6.9 billion dollars annually on net after accounting for wind and transmission costs. Wind energy also greatly reduces air pollution and water use at other power plants, making wind a key tool for complying with pending environmental rules.

Congress must extend the renewable energy Production Tax Credit as soon as possible to ensure that America’s more than 550 wind turbine manufacturing facilities across 44 states can keep this success story going.

Goggin is director of Research for the American Wind Energy Association.