According to the U.S. Department of Energy, can provide more power than the entire nation's electricity needs. The plains states (northern Texas up to the Dakotas) have been called the Saudi Arabia of wind. Wind power has become increasingly cost-competitive with conventional fuels over time, as wind prices drop and depletable fuels get more expensive.
Modern wind turbines can produce more and more power (currently, and usually produce 1.5 to 2 megawatts each, though some can do much more, especially off-shore turbines.
North and South Dakota alone have enough wind energy from its highest wind speed sites to supply over half of the electricity needs of the lower 48 states. A group of 12 states in the midsection of the country have enough wind energy potential to produce nearly four times the amount of electricity consumed by the nation in 1990.
According to the American Wind Energy Association in 2014, nearly 900 utility-scale wind projects – which represent over 60,000 megawatts – are installed across 39 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
In January 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration, wind power fulfilled 4.8% of U.S. electricity needs, making it the 5th largest source of power after coal, gas, nuclear and hydro.
Worldwide, it's been demonstrated the there is enough wind power to power the entire earth's population:
- Evaluation of global wind power report (Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, September 2004)
Problems with Industrial Wind Power
Corporate control and centralization:
As with other forms of energy, wind power is largely done at industrial scale, with giant energy companies controlling the market and approaching communities in undemocratic ways to build wind at large scale. Our preference is for smaller-scale wind power that is community owned and controlled.
Rare earth metals in wind turbines:
About two tons of neodymium are used for permanent magnets in each wind turbine. The mining of this rare earth metal is toxic and dangerous and mostly occurs in China. Neodymium is not essential, however, and we should be encouraging the use of neodymium-free wind turbines. For example, Enercon has been using wound field rotors and no permanent magnets in their direct drive turbines for decades, and they are the most visible turbines in Europe.
On the problems with neodymium, please read:
- Boom in Mining Rare Earths Poses Mounting Toxic Risks (Jan 2013)
- In China, the true cost of Britain's clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale (Jan 2011)
Many have expressed concern about bird kills from wind turbines. Wind turbines kill an average of about two birds per turbine per year. To put this in perspective, the United States could get half its electricity from wind power and the bird fatalities would be less than 1 percent of the number of birds U.S. housecats kill each year. At sites in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, however, significantly large numbers of bats have been killed by wind turbines. The industry is studying the matter to figure out how to prevent this.
- Birds and Collisions (shows that wind power, in 2013, killed an estimated 573,000 birds, which is 0.05% to 0.12% of all birds killed by the total of wind power, communication towers, power lines and buildings/glass)
- Wind Energy Frequently Asked Questions (shows that if wind provided 20% of U.S. electricity needs, it would kill about 1,000,000 birds per year. If 100% of U.S. electricity was powered by wind, this translates to 1% of all birds killed by the total of wind power, communication towers, power lines and buildings/glass, and would still be the smallest of these causes.
- ABC's position on global warming and Coal Extraction and Energy Production Impacts on Birds
- American Bird Conservancy’s Policy Statement on Wind Energy and Bird-Smart Wind Guidelines
- Global Warming Factsheet ("Between 20–30% of all species are at an increased risk of extinction if average temperatures increase more than 2.5°C.")
Bats, on the other hand, have been a serious problem. The industry is finding ways to minimize harm to bats.
- Wind Turbines Kill More Than 600,000 Bats A Year. What Should We Do? (Popular Science, Nov 2013)
- 8 Ways Wind Power Companies Are Trying to Stop Killing Birds and Bats (Mother Jones, Jan 2014)
More on Wind Energy and its Potential
- Clean Energy Solutions (links to studies showing how we can meet all of our energy needs with conservation, efficiency, wind, solar and energy storage)
- American Wind Energy Association
- U.S. Department of Energy:
|From: An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States (Pacific Northwest Laboratory, 1991)
" Estimates of the electricity that could potentially be generated by wind power and of the land area available for wind energy have been calculated for the contiguous United States. The estimates are based on published wind resource data and exclude windy lands that are not suitable for development as a result of environmental and land-use considerations. Despite these exclusions, the potential electric power from wind energy is surprisingly large. Good wind areas, which cover 6% of the contiguous U.S. land area, have the potential to supply more than one and a half times the current electricity consumption of the United States. Technology under development today will be capable of producing electricity economically from good wind sites in many regions of the country.
...To provide 20% of the nation's electricity, only about 0.6% of the land of the lower 48 states would have to be developed with wind turbines. Furthermore, less than 5% of this land would be occupied by wind turbines, electrical equipment, and access roads. Most existing land use, such as farming and ranching, could remain as it is now."
From: Wind Energy Resources (National Wind Coordinating Committee, Jan 1997)
"The United States is fortunate to possess one of the largest wind energy resources in the world. The amount of energy theoretically available for use has been estimated at as much as 40 times the current U.S. energy consumption. Of course, only a small fraction of this potential could be used because of constraints on available land for wind power plants, limits on the efficiency of energy extraction, cost, siting issues and other factors. Even after taking these factors into account, various studies suggest nonetheless that wind has the potential to supply anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of U.S. electricity needs.
...They found that the windiest areas (class 5 and above) could support enough wind power capacity to provide 18 percent to 53 percent of the electricity consumed in 1993. The lower figure represents the most severe assumptions of land use exclusion, while the upper figure represents no exclusions at all. Most of the prospective sites in these classes are concentrated in the Great Plains states. In contrast, class 3 and 4 areas are distributed much more widely around the country and, according to the study could supply from 1.7 to 6 times the current U.S. electricity demand.