Quietly, persistently, and completely imperceptibly to folks who don’t drive the nation’s flatlands often, wind power has become a significant force. Wind energy supplied 4.7 percent of the total electricity generated in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Global Wind Energy Council and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And in 12 states (including Maine, Colorado and North Dakota), 10 percent or more of the state’s electric power generated comes from wind power (Iowa leads with 31 percent).
Sprawling chains of wind farms—some covering hundreds of acres, some consisting of a few dozen wind turbines—have sprung up in large numbers, turning a perpetually renewable resource into an industry that’s significantly reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
There are now more than 53,000 utility-scale wind turbines operating in 41 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and they are producing power sufficient to fill the energy needs of 25 million homes.
Although wind power has been used for centuries (to pump water and to power simple machines and milling operations, for example), not until 1887 was a windmill used to produce electricity—in Scotland first, and a few months later in Cleveland. Both were for private use. For the next several decades, wind power was primarily a single-use application on farms and ranches and for small business power backup. In the 1970s, when concern about reliance on foreign sources of fuel escalated, a concerted effort to press forward the potential of wind power began. The U.S. government partnered with a nascent industry (which had been serving mostly back-to-the-land groups) to develop turbines appropriate for large-scale commercial use.
Now miles of sleek, tall towers and spinning blades dot the rural landscape. In fact, eight of the largest wind farms in the world are in this country, five of them in Texas. Other states that are producing a great deal of wind power are California, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
Wind employment increased by 32 percent in 2016, employing more than 100,000 workers, and experts from all arenas believe this trajectory will continue.
The American Wind Energy Association is predicting that this low-cost, zero-emission energy will be supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030. And because of the strong domestic supply chain, the U.S, Department of Energy (DOE), in its “Wind Vision Report,” noted that wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 U.S. jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and supporting services by 2050.
This number, some might argue, is a relatively small workforce compared to some other industries. But employment potential is not the only upside of harnessing this energy source. Wind energy reduces air pollution, preserves the water resources that would be used by the electric power sector, and increases community revenues, the DOE report notes.
These are among the factors that motivate those of us at Renewable Energy Consulting Services (RECS) to help bring wind power projects to fruition.