Community Wind: Affordable, Abundant, Ready To Deliver

Innovative new technologies are continually being developed that will help us to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. Despite these efforts, the Earth's atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise. According to NASA's Jim Hansen and other leading scientists, the number one way to cut emissions quickly and get below 350ppm - the estimated safe upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere - is to stop burning fossil fuels and convert to more renewable sources - as soon as possible.[1]

A much-touted strategy is to build out and upgrade the national energy grid to make it possible to deliver electricity from remote clean energy sources to large population centers where it is most needed. Unfortunately, modernizing our nation's electricity grid is proving to be a very slow, costly, and difficult process.

Wind Turbines and Smokestack

Photo: JV Virta Some rights reserved

Community Wind Provides Significant Potential for CO2 Reductions - and Can Be Deployed Now

In the meantime, community wind power can deliver large amounts of renewable energy affordably to many people, and can be deployed now, allowing us to realize clean energy benefits much sooner. Because community wind is often built to serve local energy needs, it doesn't need to wait for new transmission lines. With increasing constraints on regional transmission systems, community wind can play a vital role in meeting demand for renewable energy now, while the large transmission grid is being expanded and upgraded.

The potential to reduce greenhouse gas and other toxicemissions through increased community and small wind development in the U.S. is significant. Community and small wind in the U.S. has the potential to offset the production of over 78.7 billion pounds of CO2 per year - the equivalent of removing nearly 7 million passenger vehicles from the roads, avoiding the burning of nearly 200,000 railcars of coal annually, or taking 8.4 coal-fired power plants out of production.[2]

Community Wind Is Much More Affordable Than Other Energy Sources

If the true cost of polluting were factored into the consumer's price for energy, community and small wind (and other renewables, depending on location) would be the most economic energy choice. Many more projects would be developed, raising the potential greenhouse gas reduction benefits from these sources by a factor of three or four... or more. In a recent study scientists estimate that "the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually."[3] If the health and environmental damages suffered from the use of carbon-based fuels were taken into consideration, the price of energy per kWh to consumers would double or triple.

Community wind can deliver greater environmental benefits, in less time and for lower cost than could be delivered by any other form of energy.

In addition, in contrast to traditional sources of electricity, wind power does not use massive amounts of water. Two gallons of water, on average, are consumed by traditional power plants per kWh of electricity for the consumer.[4] The initial potential for community and small wind, if realized, would save over 100 billion gallons of water a year.

These are very significant numbers. With supportive policies in place, community wind, in most parts of the U.S., can deliver greater environmental benefits, in less time and for lower cost than could be delivered by any other form of energy.

So What Are We Waiting For?

Although community wind provides an affordable, abundant, and immediate clean energy option with tremendous benefits to the environment, to rural economies, and to national and local energy security, it still faces many barriers:

  • Economies of scale that work to decrease project costs for wind farms owned by large corporate entities seldom apply to community wind.
  • The primary incentive for wind energy development in the U.S., the Production Tax Credit (PTC), largely excludes community and small wind owners and developers. This unique passive tax credit is geared toward large multi-national corporations with the ability to finance the projects on their balance sheets.
  • Low-cost capital, for financing tasks critical to assessing the likely success of a proposed wind project, is needed long before the project reaches the shovel-ready stage and is extremely difficult for a start-up wind energy business to obtain.
  • Permitting regulations on the local, state, and federal levels tend to be written for large projects with budgets of many tens of millions, where additional costs for permitting studies are a smaller percentage of the whole. Permitting regulations need to be right-sized so as not to over-burden smaller projects unnecessarily.
  • Misinformation about turbine sound, shadow flicker, real estate values, environmental impacts, and other issues has spread unwarranted concern about wind development generally.

What Windustry Is Doing and How You Can Help

For more than 15 years, Windustry has been working to overcome these barriers to community-owned wind energy through advocacy, outreach, technical assistance, and education.

  • Windustry works on the state, regional and national levels to inform and advocate for progressive policies that will stimulate wind development and other forms of renewable energy.
  • Windustry is a clearinghouse of wind energy information, offering an exceptionally broad array of in-depth expertise to those who access our services. We function as a center of information, with networks extending throughout the nation and beyond U.S. borders.
  • Windustry's signature online service, the Community Wind Toolbox, provides practical information to anyone looking to develop community-owned, commercial-scale wind projects. It is an unparalleled resource, with 16 sections of detailed information related to each step of the process in developing a wind project, from inspiration to turbine selection.
  • Windustry has a long history of hosting conferences, webinars, trainings, and other events as way to connect with our constituencies. For example, Windustry has planned and hosted eleven major conferences on community and small wind in regions across the U.S. - five in the past year alone. And each year, Windustry produces and staffs the Wind Energy Centerin the Eco Experience Building of the Minnesota State Fair.
  • Windustry provides direct technical assistance, such as site assessments, wind resource analyses, economic modeling, equipment assessment and advising business set-up, to those seeking to develop a community wind project.

Windustry's vision is for communities to become involved with the production of the energy they consume. In most areas of the U.S. wind is the most cost-effective form of energy (especially when all things, including the costs of pollution, are considered) and, because of the urgency of the climate crisis, its rapid deployment is our highest priority. Windustry envisions wind turbines dotting the outskirts of small towns and in large open spaces of urban areas, such as in mall parking lots or near athletic fields.

Donate Now

Donate now and help Windustry to achieve this vision - and begin seeing real and immediate reduction in CO2 levels. We don't need to wait for the grid to be modernized - we have the knowledge and the technology to realize the potential of community wind right now. Why wait?

 


 

[1] James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer, James C. Zachos. 2008. Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? (http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0804/0804.1126.pdf)

[2] At least one-quarter to one-half of the estimated 35,000 cities and towns in the U.S.(http://nationalatlas.gov/mld/citiesx.html) have the potential for at least one wind project. Conservatively, the average size for such a wind project is about 2 MW. If a 25% capacity factor is used for the average production of these projects, and if the lower estimate of the number of cities with viable conditions is applied, then the amount of clean energy that could be produced per year is over 37.5 billion kWh. Using the EPA figure of 1.52 lbs of CO2 avoided per kWh of clean energy, this would translate into a reduction of over 57 billion lbs. To this estimate add the potential for reduction from increased small wind development. If just one-quarter of the estimated 2.2 million farms in the U.S. were to install, on average, a 20kW turbine that would produce 26,000 kWh per year (less than a 15 percent capacity factor), the total production would be over 14 billion kWh per year, which would reduce CO2 by over 21.7 billion lbs. per year, for a combined annual total reduction of 78.7 billion lbs of CO2. (http://www.ers.usda.gov/StateFacts/US.HTM)

[3] Paul R. Epstein, Jonathan J. Buonocore, Kevin Eckerle, Michael Hendryx, Benjamin M. Stout III, Richard Heinberg, Richard W. Clapp, Beverly May, Nancy L. Reinhart, Melissa M. Ahern, Samir K. Doshi, and Leslie Glustrom. 2011. Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal in "Ecological Economics Reviews." Robert Costanza, Karin Limburg & Ida Kubiszewski, Eds. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1219: 73-98.

[4] http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/33905.pdf