By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Here’s a Spanish term you may want to learn, if you don’t know it already: eólica energia.
That translates to “wind energy” in English. This type of clean, no-emissions power is growing with gusto in many Spanish-speaking locations. It’s taking hold in Mexico and in Brazil, where General Electric is helping advance special turbines that capture the lighter, steady breezes characteristic of that country.
Wind is especially robust in Spain. This week, Spain reported that its eólica energia passed a benchmark of 6.2 terawatt-hours, which meant it was supplying more than a quarter of Spain’s total power output.
You can see the report at Red Electrica, where even those who don’t speak Spanish should be able to decipher the color-coded graphics showing the large percentage of power coming from renewables, wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
Spain’s success with wind is helpful to everyone. Here’s why: Wind, which provides enough energy to power 10 million households in Spain, can help stabilize economies. Wind power isn’t just a clean source of energy, it’s a stable one. While fossil fuels are subject to constant commodity price fluctuations and are destined to climb upward as extraction becomes more difficult, winds are ongoing and enabling wind power to be bought and sold on long term leases. The price holds relatively steady and that’s good for consumers.
Wind also is a major job producer in Spain, where it employs 27,000, according to the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE).
So even setting aside the hugely important role of wind in reducing carbon emissions — it’s estimated to avoid the emission of around 22 million tons of CO2 per year in Spain alone — wind can be a powerful economic driver. That helps nations hit by economic downturns, like Spain, and the U.S..
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) also had good news to report this month. First, after months of teeth-biting indecision, the U.S. Congress extended the tax credits that have been underpinning the growth of wind in the U.S.. Secondly, AWEA reported that wind power is spreading the wealth around. In 2012, it grew in states where it had stalled, like California, and states where it hadn’t been considered to be a large factor, such as Illinois. Coastal states are poised to gain, with off-shore wind farms in the works. And states with less wind energy potential like Pennsylvania (which gets only about 1 percent of its power from wind) are still participating. The Keystone state is home to about 20 wind-related manufacturing facilities, producing turbine blades and other components, according to AWEA.
The extension of wind tax credits is expected to staunch layoffs in the wind industry, including the nascent U.S. wind manufacturing sector. That could re-establish the U.S. as a potential exporter of wind hardware and expertise.
Texas, the U.S. state leader in wind capacity with more than 12,000 megawatts of capacity, also could see huge impacts from this renewable. With more stability in the market, Texas can move forward more confidently with planned major grid improvements to ferry wind power from turbines in the western plains to the power-hungry urban centers in Central and South Texas.
Nationally, wind moved like a brush fire in 2012, finishing the year as the fastest growing type of energy, surpassing even natural gas to provide 42 percent of all new energy capacity. In part, the fast growth was fueled by producers who feared the PTC would not be renewed; but wind also grew because wind has fallen into favor in the U.S..
Wind’s strong showing in 2012 pushed it past 60 gigawatts (60,000 megawatts) of combined accumulated capacity. That’s enough power to supply almost 15 million homes, about the number in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio combined, according to AWEA.
Yes, critics, that wind power is not always online. Winds ebb and flow and storage solutions are needed to improve intermittency. But intermittancy is solvable.
And it’s not just consumers who can win with wind from their electricity provider. Increasingly, municipalities, school districts and private industry are buying wind power to diversify their energy portfolios. AWEA reports that new wind power purchasers in 2012 included “at least 18 industrial buyers, 11 schools and universities, and eight towns or cities.”
Wind languished as a sliver of the grid for many years. But now it’s bursting out of that role, and will likely produce a ripple of benefits for the U.S. economy. With its wide foothold across many states, the wind industry stands to bolster employment in manufacturing, help clear the skies, grow wind farms and secure a U.S. presence in a global market.
We can only say: Aclamaciones!
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