This wind energy milestone powers opportunity across America
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Thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of the more than 114,000 Americans directly employed the wind industry, U.S. wind energy just hit a significant milestone: 100 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity. That’s enough wind power to meet the electricity needs of 32 million homes. This success story is decades in the making, and it has created well-paying jobs, new opportunities across rural America, and affordable, reliable, clean electricity.

American wind power was born in the California desert in the 1980s. Over the ensuing years, innovators and pioneers reduced costs, improved reliability and turned wind power into a mainstream energy source. This work paid off-- while it took 28 years to build the first 25 GW of wind power, we’ve only needed 11 years to build the next 75. Wind now generates enough electricity to meet the demands of California (the world’s fourth largest economy) and New Jersey combined. And the pipeline of new wind projects in the works stands bigger than ever at 46.5 GW.

Beyond abstractions like gigawatts, what does this milestone mean for American families and businesses?

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Affordable electricity. Wind’s costs have fallen by 69 percent since 2009, and in many parts of the country, wind is now the cheapest electricity source. Technological innovation that lets modern turbines reach stronger, steadier winds and an improved domestic supply chain are behind these declines.

It also means reliable electricity. Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Maine all generate at least 20 percent of their electricity using wind. At times wind has supplied over 50 percent of the electricity in ERCOT, the grid manager for most of Texas.

Beyond powering homes, wind is powering an economic renaissance in rural American and manufacturing states. That enhanced domestic supply chain is spread across more than 500 U.S. factories, meaning wind energy is one of the few industries creating new American manufacturing jobs. Many of these facilities are in long-time manufacturing strongholds that need new opportunity—Ohio leads the nation with 60 wind factories, and Michigan and Wisconsin have 26 and 28, respectively. Overall, more than 114,000 Americans across all 50 states work in wind, and wind turbine technician is the country’s second fastest growing job according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most wind technician jobs are in rural communities, where wind is making a bigger investment than nearly any other industry. Today, over 1,100 wind farms operate in 41 states and two U.S. territories, and over 99 percent of projects are in rural areas. They represent over $194 billion in capital investment. Every year, wind projects pay over $1 billion in state and local taxes and landowner lease payments. This added tax revenue helps communities invest in schools, fix roads and keep local taxes low. The landowner lease payments offer stable income for family farmers hosting wind turbines, helping them weather years with drought or low crop prices. 

More of these benefits are on the way. We have the potential to harness a new ocean energy resource in rapidly emerging offshore wind with a pipeline exceeding 26,000 megawatts. Realizing this potential will create a new domestic supply chain potentially worth $70 billion, generate up to 36,000 jobs over the next decade, and revitalize port communities. The same American ingenuity that grew onshore wind will help offshore thrive.

But we still have work to do. Modernizing the electric grid and building new transmission to meet 21stcentury needs will play a crucial role in continuing wind’s success story. Transmission investment allows us to tap into the country’s most wind- and solar-rich areas and deliver that electricity to the towns, cities and manufacturing hubs where energy demand is highest. All of this makes the power system more reliable while lowering costs for American families and businesses. American ingenuity helped bring us the first 100 GW of wind—updating and expanding our electric grid will help get us to the next 100.

Tom Kiernan is CEO of American Wind Energy Association