by Jeremy Gross, Green Economy Post
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported that the U.S. wind energy industry broke all previous records in 2008 by installing more than 8,500 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity. To put that number in perspective, it is enough to power over two million homes.
However, in a sign of even greater opportunities and future growth, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reported that the wind power’s generating capacity grew from over 25,000 MW in 2008 to over 35,000 MW in 2009.
Like many other industries, wind power has a handful of companies in dominant positions. Check out this AWEA chart of the top five wind asset owners in 2008:
|Top Five Owners of Wind Assets as of End of 2008|
|Owner||Wind Penetration (MW)|
|NextEra Energy Resources||6,290|
Take a look at NextEra – in 2008, they alone owned around 25% of total wind assets in the U.S!
But what about the “little guys and girls”? How can local communities get a piece of the action? The answer is Community Wind!
What is Community Wind?
Wind power information non-profit, Windustry, provides a clear definition of Community Wind:
Community wind projects are locally owned by farmers, investors, businesses, schools, utilities, or other public or private entities and they optimize local benefits. The key feature is that local community members have a significant, direct financial stake in the project beyond land lease payments and tax revenue. Projects may be used for on-site power or to generate wholesale power for sale, usually on a commercial-scale greater than 100 kW.
Much like larger real estate projects, community wind power projects can take a few years to plan and develop. It requires working with a devoted team of wind industry experts who can navigate around financial, easements, power purchase agreements, engineering, construction, utilities, and project management.
The key takeaway is understanding that local ownership can have a positive multiplier when looking at the economic, social, and environmental benefits of community wind. Again, Windustry provides us with clear examples – let’s take a look at some specific benefits.
Economic Benefits of Wind
- Diversify Rural Economies: When wind development is locally owned and controlled, the tax base expands. Wind turbines are a source of tax revenues on land that normally wouldn’t attract new industries.
- Keep More Local Dollars: There is a higher multiplier effect when money is spent in the local economy by locals. Investing in community wind power means more jobs and businesses – which leads to more investment and development.
- Stable Energy Prices: Wind is a free fuel that doesn’t get mined or transported! That removes two very expensive components of energy costs and can provide a pricing hedge against oil.
- Help Decrease Future Wind Costs: Wind generation has gone from 40¢/kWh in the early 1980s to about 2.5-5¢/kWh today. More capacity and generation drives more economies of scale.
- Job Engine: A study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority found that when measure per unit of energy generated, wind power creates 27% more jobs than a coal plant and 66% more than a natural gas combined-cycle plant.
Social Benefits of Wind
- Promotes Energy Independence: Local wind generation means diversification which reduces our dependence on imported oil. Also, local community wind is a decentralized source of power that provides more safety to the electrical grid.
- Harvest the Wind: Community wind provides additional revenue for local owners which include farmers and rural landowners. This provides diversified income. Additionally, turbines don’t displace livestock or agriculture – they complement other crops.
- Local Owners Control Production: Turbines (one or many) operated by local landowners and local businesses increase local control of energy production. This helps diversify the regional energy mix.
- Strengthens Support of Wind Power: As more local benefits are realized, local support for wind power will grow. As more investments occur, more locals will have a direct stake in the success of wind power. This will also reduce opposition to new wind farms.
Environmental Benefits of Wind
- Wind is Clean: Wind power helps climate change as a greenhouse-gas-reducing source of energy.
- Wind Protects Water: Turbines do not emit mercury or other dangerous substances which leak into lakes and rivers. Wind energy also conserves water resources.
- Wind Saves Resources: You do not need to mine the wind or package and ship it any where.
- Wind Preserves Land: Wind farms require large open spaces, but wind turbines themselves have a very small footprint. Wind farms preserve open space, meaning there isn’t any possibility for real estate sprawl.
Wind power generation and capacity have been expanding at a rapid pace. This has created many opportunities for community wind development. States have been building wind in to their renewable portfolio standards. According to the AWEA, in 2008, Minnesota and Iowa – now get over 7% of their power from wind and 13 states get more than 2%.
Here is AWEA‘s list of the top 5:
|States with Highest Percentage of Electricity from Wind|
|State||Wind Penetration (%)|
Community wind power is a great way to help strengthen each state’s local communities and local economies as well as to help create a more sustainable and green future.
For more information, check out the Windustry Community Wind Toolbox:.
© 2010, Jeremy Gross. All rights reserved. Do not republish.