When we think of where our energy comes from, we more often than not envision the billowing smokestacks of a coal plant. It’s true that coal is a major source of energy for most Americans, accounting for over 50% of our energy production according to the Department of Energy, but it’s also important to remember that it is not our only source of energy.
Take, for instance, the massive proliferation of wind power over the last few years. In 2008, new wind projects accounted for 42% of new power-producing capacity for the United States, and an additional 10,000MW of new capacity were brought online in 2009. According to the American Wind Energy Association, this sets the U.S. on track to produce 20% of our electricity from wind by 2030,
Wind power accounts for nearly 2% of the electricity produced in the United States, but represents a power source that is considered more-or-less environmentally-friendly. Wind turbines, after production and installation, do not necessitate the use of fossil fuels to produce energy. The attributable benefits are substantial – the wind power fleet in the U.S. avoids an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – an equivalent of taking 10.5 millions cars off the road and conserves 20 billion gallons of water annually otherwise slated for cooling or steam production in fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants.
Compared to the burning of fossil fuels for energy, wind power is indeed an environmentally-option, but is beset by some other challenges. One of the foremost is local opposition to the aesthetic appearance of a wind farm on agricultural or ocean landscapes (notoriously, construction on the Cape Wind Project was delayed for years for this reason). There have been accusations that wind farms disrupt migratory bird patterns, and that windmills produce low-level vibrations and noise (a claim which has yet to be scientifically verified).
Still, the future of wind looks bright – the DoE’s Wind and Water Power Program notes the proliferation of small scale and distributed wind turbines, large-scale offshore wind projects, and 20% targets for wind production by 2030. Weaning ourselves off of fossil-fuel consumption can only mean good things for the state of the planet.