Proven reliable and affordable, wind power is good for America and for Colorado, and on pace to meet 20 percent of the nation's energy needs by 2030.
Colorado wind power already supports up to 5,000 construction and maintenance jobs, and wind farm owners are paying $10 million a year in taxes to Colorado communities.
In total, the American wind industry currently attracts up to $20 billion in private investment annually, all driven by the Production Tax Credit (PTC), and provides significant economic benefits through local tax revenue.
Support from Colorado elected officials - particularly outspoken leaders like U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet - has helped make these benefits possible.
Wind power displaces emissions that would otherwise be released by fossil fuel generation sources. Currently installed wind power in Colorado will avoid 3.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Wind energy also saves invaluable water resources, as there is virtually no water used in the generation of electricity.
Highlighting this benefit is the recent decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to "scale back the amount of land available for oil shale research and development [because] the state's water supply is too fragile to be put at risk." Coloradans certainly appreciate the problems related to droughts, and wind's water-free attribute is a priceless benefit.
Wind power is known for its many environmental advantages, but no energy source - or human activity in the landscape for that matter - is completely free of environmental impacts. However, wind's impacts must be viewed in context with those created by other sources of energy production to fully appreciate their significance.
When one considers wind energy's low impacts along with its impressive environmental benefits, it's clear that this clean renewable energy source has the least overall lifecycle impacts of any form of energy generation. This premise was validated by a 2009 study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which evaluated the comparative impact of six electricity generation types on wildlife in New York and other New England states.
The most widely publicized environmental issue concerning wind energy is its potential impact on bird populations. It is estimated that fewer than 200,000 birds are killed annually at wind farms. In sharp contrast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other organizations estimate that annual bird deaths from collisions with buildings range from 97 million to 976 million, vehicle-related deaths total 60 million, and oil and wastewater pits are responsible for up to 2 million fatalities. The truth is that wind energy is currently a very small factor in human-caused bird fatalities, and with improved siting practices, its impacts will continue to be reduced over time.
Regarding the Fish and Wildlife Service's 2009 Eagle Permit Rule, wind energy has historically contributed to less than 1 percent of all human-related eagle losses in the United States, and the industry is working diligently to reduce these impacts.
The eagle permit is not a wholesale license to kill birds, nor is it specifically designed for the wind industry. Rather, its intent is to provide legal protection to an individual or company for the taking of an eagle that is incidental to and not the purpose of otherwise legal activity.
This protection is made available under carefully controlled conditions. To obtain an eagle permit, a wind farm developer or owner-operator cannot simply apply for a permit, but must evaluate the proposed wind project holistically to assess the risk to eagles, and then take steps through avoidance and minimization to reduce the potential for fatalities - including changing the layout and operation of the proposed wind farm.
When you step back and look at the facts, it becomes clear that wind energy, which consumes no water and produces no emissions in the generation of electricity, is the least impactful form of energy production available to our society today. The benefits it provides to both wildlife and humans far outweigh the negligible impacts.
In terms of cost and reliability, the wind industry has proven itself more than capable of providing competitive and predictable electric generation. When all the facts are considered, the case for extending the production tax credit is clear.
- John Anderson is the director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C.