On March 12, the Department of Energy released its Wind Vision report, which takes stock of the current state of wind energy in the US and examines economic and environmental benefits from continued growth of wind power production. The report models different scenarios to examine the impact of increasing wind energy production, including a scenario (the “study scenario”) in which production rises from current levels (4.5% of US annual electricity generation at the end of 2013) to 10% in 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. The report contains a number of findings that would support continued federal investment in wind power infrastructure and technology. The environmental benefits to be derived from increased reliance on wind power are remarkable. The report concludes that, by 2050, the projected increases in wind power production could:

  • Offset 12.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases (wind power is already reducing these emissions);
  • Offset 2.6 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide, 4.7 million metric tons of nitrogen oxides, and 0.5 million metric tons of fine particulate matter, which is equivalent to more than $100 billion in savings from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages; and
  • Save 260 billion gallons of water that would otherwise be used by electric power plants.

The report also describes numerous economic benefits that would flow from increased use of wind power. The report concludes that the wind industry has the potential to support hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide over the course of the study period. The report also concludes that wind power is quickly becoming competitive with fossil fuels and could ultimately become less expensive than fossil fuels. If wind power achieves the levels of penetration described in the study scenario, it would result in a modest increase in energy prices in the short term, which would be followed by greater savings in the longer term. The projected increases in wind power production also would make the electricity sector substantially less sensitive to changes in fossil fuel costs, and the resulting downward pressure on fossil fuel prices could generate large savings in natural gas prices through 2050. Local governments also can expect to benefit from increased deployment of wind power through added revenues from land lease payments and real property taxes.

Notably, the report shows the impact of the various expirations of the production tax credit. Historically, installation of wind power capacity has dropped sharply each time the credit has expired and rebounded following the subsequent extensions.