Okla., Kan. wind helped drive record CO2 reductions — study

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Consumption of U.S. wind energy helped offset 6 percent of all the carbon dioxide emitted by the U.S. power sector last year, according to data released this morning by the American Wind Energy Association.

AWEA officials, using a modeling tool developed by U.S. EPA, found that increased production of wind power, especially in the Southern Plains and Midwest, led to a record 132 million metric tons of CO2 reductions directly attributable to wind power.

“We’ve had a fair amount of wind power added over the last several years, and that increase in production is really what’s driving this,” said Michael Goggin, AWEA’s senior director of research.

In fact, the industry notched its third-largest annual growth in 2015, adding just under 8,600 megawatts between January and December, a 77 percent increase from the previous year.

Total installed U.S. wind power capacity was just under 74,500 MW at the end of 2015, with an additional 9,400 MW of capacity in the development pipeline, according to AWEA. Once operational, that additional capacity will reduce electricity-sector carbon emissions by another 23 million tons annually, shaving U.S. electricity sector emissions by an additional 1 percent.

While wind power has grown across much of the country, the industry has made recent inroads into what Goggin described as “traditionally more carbon-intensive” regions in the South and Midwest. These include states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, where wind power has seen sizable capacity additions over the last few years.

“Wind energy there displaces a lot more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than in some other parts of the country,” he said.

As with CO2 emissions, the surge in wind power generation also significantly reduced U.S. power-sector water consumption in 2015, by an estimated 73 billion gallons, or roughly 226 gallons per person. “This is a particularly valuable attribute because global climate change is expected to increase the severity of drought,” AWEA said.

The wind energy sector’s carbon-reducing capabilities have also been aided by advances in turbine technology, Goggin said. An average commercial wind turbine today displaces roughly 4,200 metric tons of CO2 annually, roughly equal to the emissions from 900 cars and trucks.

Increased use of wind power has also helped drive down emissions of two other power-sector air pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, by 176,000 and 106,000 metric tons, respectively, AWEA said.

Using health metrics developed by the Harvard School of Public Health, AWEA estimated that those reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions saved Americans $7.3 billion in avoided health and environmental costs.

“Americans will be able to breathe easier and live longer thanks to clean energy produced by American wind power,” Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s CEO, said in a statement announcing the findings, which will be included in the group’s U.S. wind industry market report to be released in April.

Officials said wind energy’s ability to reduce power-sector carbon emissions also bodes well for states trying to meet state and federal CO2 reduction targets, such as those required under EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

“Utilities are investing in it for that reason, but they also value the fuel price stability that comes with low-cost wind energy,” he said.

The findings are based on an analysis using EPA’s Avoided Emissions and Generation Tool, which statistically determines which fossil fuel power plants are most likely to see reduced output with increased use of renewable energy and efficiency measures.