Last month, at the wind industry's largest annual conference, WINDPOWER, I laid out the case as incoming Chairman of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) that "Wind is winning" the battle to become our energy of choice. As our economy continues its transformation from dependence on fossil fuels to a sustainable clean-energy future, I believe this will enable us to build a path to the right side of history, where consumers and constituents no longer need to choose between cheap OR clean energy.
Wind is winning because it offers unparalleled price certainty from an inexhaustible renewable resource, at the lowest cost. Since 2009, real wind energy costs in the U.S. are down more than 66 percent. From Texas to Iowa, wind power is now cheaper than the coal and other polluting fuels it is replacing.
Last year, wind was the #1 source of newly installed U.S. electric power capacity, and attracted investments from Amazon, Apple, Google, IKEA, Microsoft and Walmart. Despite the drama in the courts around the Clean Power Plan, states and utilities continue to purchase wind power for the simple reason it makes economic sense.
The markets have spoken--smart money is betting on wind.
No bigger evidence is required than the historic announcement by MidAmerican Energy that it is spending $3.6 billion to install up to 2,000 MW in new wind energy generating capacity for its customers. This project, Wind XI, is the world's largest wind turbine order to date, and will nearly double the wind energy generated by MidAmerican in Iowa annually--to 85 percent--putting Iowa on track to be the nation's first state to generate more than 40 percent of its energy from wind.
This decision by MidAmerican, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Energy, is a bold move and welcome vote of confidence for the wind industry. Indeed, their commitment to 100 percent renewables is the first of its kind from a major utility. Most importantly, Wind XI was a smart business decision. Like many other energy customers and producers, MidAmerican is turning to wind not just because it doesn't pollute and can save the planet, but because it makes good business sense and is a safe, wise investment.
Today, wind energy offers investors a combination of low-cost and long-term certainty unmatched by ANY other energy source--clean or fossil fuel.
By using high-powered forecasting and smart data from wind turbines worldwide, we can now predict--with remarkable precision and certainty--not just which way the wind blows, but how much electricity and revenue it can generate, at any given point across the U.S. and much of the globe, over the next 20 years. No unpredictable fluctuations in fuel prices for investors to worry about. Wind remains predictably free. Not even natural gas can match that.
The benefits for consumers are just as promising--the Department of Energy reports American ratepayers will save almost $150 billion on their electric bills by 2050 in the switch to low-cost wind power.
Iowa's ratepayers already reap these benefits. Iowa generates a record breaking 30 percent of its electricity from wind--the highest of any state--and average retail prices are the seventh lowest in the U.S., approximately 38 percent less than the national average.
Currently wind energy accounts for approximately 4.7 percent of total U.S. electric generation. With its clear economic, environmental and health benefits, we can, and should, do more.
DOE's Wind Vision report, laying out a path to 20 percent wind energy by 2030, was a step in the right direction. But I'm echoing MidAmerican's bold commitment, and calling on the industry to demand we don't just set the bar at 20 percent but push further, to an 80 percent or greater renewable energy mix, which I believe, is achievable in our lifetime. With Wind XI, MidAmerican is proving that in the right geographic location, 85 percent wind is achievable in the very near term.
Wind and other renewable energies are the building blocks with which we build a bridge to the right side of history, where we use domestic, clean, AND economic wind and other renewables to power our energy needs.
The right side of history is a sustainable wind industry driven by free-market forces of consumer and commercial demand.
The right side of history looks like regional market coordination and nationwide transmission infrastructure to support the highest penetration of low-cost, renewable power.
The right side of history looks like utilities like MidAmerican reaching their 100 percent renewable energy goals.
The right side of history is a world with a broad renewable energy coalition, with an "all of the above" approach, utilizing wind, solar, energy efficiency, storage and more. A future where commitments to 100 percent renewable energy, like MidAmerican's, are echoed in states, utilities and companies across the nation.
Chris Brown is Chairman of the Board of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and President of Vestas-American Wind Technology, Vestas' North American business unit.