Cool Breeze: Less Pollution and More Water Savings from Wind Energy in Colorado
Fossil fuel-fired power plants are major sources of air pollution in Colorado. This air pollution harms our health and contributes to global warming. Fossil fuel power plants also consume significant amounts of the state’s precious water supplies.
Wind energy, in contrast, has none of these problems. It produces no air pollution, makes no contribution to global warming, and uses no water.
The rise in the amount of wind power in Colorado has had direct benefits to Colorado’s environment. Colorado can and should continue to develop more wind power in the state.
Wind power has been on the rise in Colorado. In 2000, Colorado produced no electricity from wind. Today, Colorado is a national wind-energy leader, generating nearly 10 percent of its electricity from the wind, enough to power almost half a million households. If Colorado stays on track, the state could more than double the amount of wind energy by 2016.
Growth in Electricity Generated from Wind Power in Colorado Since 2000[i]
Wind energy is already delivering immense environmental benefits for Colorado. Existing wind energy in Colorado eliminates about 2.7 million metric tons of global warming pollution annually—equivalent to taking more than half a million of today’s passenger vehicles off the road—and saves more than a billion gallons of water per year, enough water to serve the needs of nearly 23,000 people. It avoids 3,680 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollutants and 1,700 tons of sulfur dioxide pollutants, which cause acid rain and soot that causes respiratory disease.
Projects currently under construction will add to the benefits of wind power in Colorado. Wind power under construction in Colorado would yield an estimated additional 1,564,000 MWh per year of generation. These projects alone will prevent an additional 885,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution per year, the equivalent of taking 174,000 passenger vehicles off the road. Colorado would also expect to save an estimated 340 million gallons of water, enough for more than 7,500 people. Colorado would see an additional reduction of 1,220 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and 560 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions.
If progress on wind energy continues, Colorado will see even greater environmental benefits. If the construction of new wind projects continues from 2013 to 2016 at a pace comparable to that in recent years, Colorado could reduce global warming pollution by an additional 2.3 million metric tons in 2016—equivalent to that produced by more than 450,000 passenger vehicles. These projects would also save nearly 900 million gallons of water, enough to meet the annual water needs of nearly 20,000 people. It would avoid an additional 3,210 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and 1,480 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions.
The programs that have spurred this wind power development in Colorado are under attack. The dramatic growth of wind power in Colorado is the direct result of state and federal policies including Colorado’s renewable energy standard and federal incentives. These policies are currently under attack.
Colorado’s renewable energy standard (RES) requires investor owned utilities to provide 30 percent of their electricity from renewable resources, including wind power, by 2020. It is currently under attack by coal interests and their allies. The American Traditions Institute, a pro-fossil fuel organization aligned with Americans for Prosperity, is currently challenging Colorado’s RES in court and anti-renewable energy interests are likely to propose weakening the standard in the legislature.
The federal renewable electricity production tax credit has been one of the most important tools to help grow the wind industry in the United States and in Colorado. However, it is set to expire at the end of 2012. The loss of the tax credit could cause new construction to drop by 75 percent.
To build upon the wind industry’s ability to contribute to a clean environment, Colorado needs to renew and expand key clean energy policies in the following ways:
- Maintain and expand Colorado’s renewable energy standard.
- Extend federal incentives, particularly the production tax credit, which expires at the end of 2012.
- Set favorable transmission policies that recognize the environmental benefits of wind as sustainable energy resource.
[i] Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review, 27 September 2012.