Op-Ed: Wind power is creating economic opportunity

Source: BY SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-N.M.), The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Wind power has been one of America’s fastest growing energy sources in recent years, and there’s good reason for that—it’s both clean and affordable. In fact, in many parts of the country, wind is the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity, even accounting for government incentives. I’ve seen the evidence firsthand in my home state of New Mexico, where wind is creating a better future for families and businesses alike, particularly in our rural communities.

No state added wind power faster than New Mexico in 2017, and we’re on track to double our installed wind capacity. Our new wind farms have brought jobs to our rural communities, created opportunities for young people, and added new revenue that helps fix roads and improve schools.

Places like Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, N.M., are training the next generation of wind technicians, America’s second fastest growing job according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mesalands’ wind tech training program has a near universal placement rate for graduates, who often get their diplomas on Friday and begin their first day of work on Monday.

Because of our new wind power, new businesses are choosing to invest in New Mexico. Utilities and Fortune 500 companies are seeking access to clean energy due to both economics and consumer preferences, and wind power has become their preferred option. As just one example, Facebook recently opened a $1 billion data center in Los Lunas, N.M., bringing 300 new high-tech jobs with it. Why was New Mexico chosen for this project? It was because the facility could be powered using 100 percent renewable energy, primarily from wind.

Our electricity supply must be more than clean and affordable; it also needs to be resilient and reliable. This is another area where wind energy makes positive contributions. Adding wind to our power system enhances resource diversity, keeping the lights on for families and businesses. Grid operators have learned to integrate large amounts of wind onto their systems, and changes in wind output are gradual and can be predicted many hours in advance.

In contrast, coal or natural gas plants can unexpectedly go completely offline due to equipment failures or disruptions in fuel supply, like when coal piles and gas equipment froze during the East Coast’s 2014 Polar Vortex, or when coal yards flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Those disasters were incredibly costly for consumers and difficult for grid operators to manage.

We certainly have work to do in order to continue realizing the benefits wind brings to consumers and the resilience of our power system. Even though wind’s costs have fallen by 69 percent since 2009 and its main incentive phases out at the end of this year, wind faces an unequal playing field.

Our electric grid needs to be updated and expanded to meet 21st century needs and 21st century energy sources. Building new transmission lines will strengthen the grid and help us tap into low-cost clean energy like wind in a cost-effective way. With new transmission lines, we will be able to send more low-cost wind power generated in rural communities toward hungry energy markets in larger cities.

There’s no question wind energy is powering economic opportunity in communities across our country. I’ve seen the proof in my home state. If we make the right investments and build the right infrastructure, we can harvest this resource to its full potential, to the benefit of all Americans.

Heinrich is the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Energy Subcommittee.