Colorado a hub for wind power
Over the years, Colorado has been a clean energy leader thanks to creative, ambitious citizens and well-designed policies. Given that legacy of innovation, the state is now a hub for clean, affordable wind power, and stands to gain immensely from wind’s continued growth.
Of course, the people of Pueblo are no stranger to wind power’s benefits. The Vestas facility here is one of four in Colorado, providing hundreds of skilled, well-paying jobs. Those facilities are part of a vast supply chain that employs more than 3,000 people in the state, in disciplines from operations and maintenance to manufacturing and other support sectors.
Communities and landowners benefit from wind power directly too. By hosting turbines on their land, Colorado farmers, ranchers and other landowners receive upwards of $7.5 million a year in land lease payments from wind projects. Communities gain from a broader tax base, and wind farms pay out millions a year, helping to pay for roads, schools, and other critical public projects. All in all, Colorado wind power represents a capital investment of over $4.3 billion to date.
Though most of the state’s wind farms are north and east of Pueblo, their contribution to the economy and proven ability to produce affordable power can be felt everywhere. Wind energy works in Colorado for several reasons. The cost of wind energy continues to drop, down 43 percent in just four years. For Coloradans, that translates into clean, homegrown power that diversifies the grid, enhances reliability, and cuts costs. In fact, the top 11 wind-powered states have actually seen their electricity prices decrease compared to the other 39.
Across the country, utilities are successfully integrating wind power into their systems, passing the benefits onto consumers. For a brief time in May of last year, wind power energized over 60 percent of Xcel’s Colorado system, showcasing wind power’s ability to contribute in a significant way to the grid. Today, Colorado wind supplies enough electricity to light the equivalent of more than 870,000 homes, and that number is set to keep growing. By continuing to harness the wind, the state’s manufacturers in the supply chain stay busy, churning out the myriad components necessary to keep Colorado’s 1,530 turbines going – part of over 46,000 that dot the American landscape.
Those turbines benefit our air quality, too. American wind power avoided 126 million short tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2013, enough to take the equivalent of 20 million cars off the road. In Colorado, wind displaced nearly 7 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution, the equivalent of 13.8 percent of power sector carbon emissions, or 1.1 million cars off the road.
With new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency designed to cut carbon dioxide pollution across the country, Colorado finds itself well prepared, thanks to its clean energy portfolio. Rapidly deployable wind power is one of the biggest, fastest and cheapest ways to secure real cuts in carbon dioxide emissions today while providing affordable power to millions of Americans.
These benefits have been realized with the help of policies designed to recognize the value of clean energy sources. With the help of smart incentives like the federal production tax credit — which Congress must act now to extend — and the state Renewable Electricity Standard, wind is supporting a new manufacturing sector in Colorado, attracting investment and energizing the state’s economy.
These policies are a key part of the story of Colorado wind, an incredible resource with enough extra punch to power the entire state 24 times over. Through continued support for growing and developing clean energy, Colorado is ensuring it is prepared for whatever energy needs lie ahead, while creating real benefits today. By solidifying their status as clean energy leaders today, Coloradans are setting an example for the country for years to come.
Sarah Cottrell Propst is executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance.