As the CEO of AWEA, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I get a lot of questions about wind energy's potential; people want to know if wind power can supply a meaningful amount of America's electricity. I love getting this question because I get to give one of my favorite answers: wind is already a vitally important part of America's electricity mix, and you don't need look any further than Iowa for proof.
This year Iowa surpassed an impressive milestone: over the last 12 months through August, the state generated over 35 percent of its electricity using wind - and with the wind farms now under construction or in advanced development, it will sail past 40 percent even sooner than Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has predicted.
That already makes his state the first to be over one-third wind powered, a development that has brought enormous benefits to the state's families and businesses.
Today, wind energy supports up to 7,000 well-paying jobs in Iowa and 11 factories that build wind-related parts and materials. For many communities, this offers a second chance after previous industries closed up shop or moved away, like a former Maytag factory that has been re-purposed to build wind turbine blades. Iowa wind has also provided over $12 billion in project investment, creating much-needed financial resources to better schools, fix roads and upgrade emergency services equipment.
"Every wind turbine you see while driving across our state means income for farmers, revenue for local governments and jobs for Iowa families," according to long-time Gov. Terry Branstad.
Iowa farmers are also finding that "wind is the new corn." Every year, the Hawkeye State's farmers receive an estimated $17 million in lease payments in exchange for hosting wind turbines on their land. This is a steady revenue source they can rely on when the rains don't fall or the fields don't produce. This is doubly important because 70 percent of American wind farms are located in low-income areas, so the added resources are going where they're needed the most.
"This is our financial future," said Mike Nolte, an Iowa farmer. "It's helping us survive and maintain services, whereas other counties have had to cut them."
And there are more investment and employment opportunities on the way, as companies like Facebook and Google are building data centers in Iowa that will run on wind energy. America's corporate world is increasingly looking to power more of its operations using renewable energy, which helps companies meet internal sustainability goals while offering a low-cost hedge against conventional fuel prices fluctuations.
"This pursuit of renewable energy benefits our customers and communities through cleaner air while strengthening our business through lower and more stable energy costs," said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, speaking about the company's 100 percent renewable target.
It's possible for millions of consumers across the country to be part of the same story. Today, there are 75 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind capacity in the U.S., enough to power about 20 million typical American homes. But a lot more is on the way-- 20 GW of wind power are currently under construction or in advanced development, keeping wind on track to continue growing to supply 20 percent of the country's electricity by 2030.
As this growth continues, and Americans see the benefits of wind power firsthand, I expect their experiences will mirror Iowa's. With the highest installed wind capacity by area in the U.S., it's safe to say Iowans know wind energy as well as anyone. And the more they know, the more they like it: over 90 percent of resident's in Iowa's Third Congressional District have a favorable view of wind power.
Low-cost electricity, substantial financial benefits for local communities, thousands of well-paying jobs, and homegrown clean energy--what's not to like?
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