Boosting renewables to 25% of electricity supply in Western U.S. would make deep cuts in pollution, save consumers billions

September 24, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Western U.S. could reap huge benefits in pollution savings and reduced spending on fossil fuels by installing more wind and solar power plants, according to a comprehensive new analysis being presented on a webinar at noon Eastern Wednesday September 25 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The study found that obtaining 25 percent of electricity in the Western U.S. from renewable energy will reduce carbon dioxide pollution by up to 34 percent, and save $7 billion annually in fossil fuel costs.

The new report, “Western Wind and Solar Integration Study,” also conclusively puts to rest the myth circulated by competing forms of energy that wind energy’s pollution savings might be smaller than expected, based on the unfounded claim that fossil-fired power plants might run at lower efficiency when wind is generating electricity. Even at the very high level of renewable energy use examined in the report, the impact on the efficiency of fossil-fired power plants was found to be “negligible,” reducing the carbon emissions reduction benefits of wind and solar by only 0.2 percent, so that on net, wind and solar produced 99.8 percent of the expected emissions savings.

The study found that one megawatt-hour of wind energy – the amount produced by a typical wind turbine approximately every 90 minutes – saves 1,190 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution on average, comparable to the amount produced by driving a fuel-efficient car across the U.S. The negative impact on the efficiency of fossil-fired power plants reduced those carbon dioxide savings by only 2.4 pounds, the amount produced by a typical drive to the grocery store.

Said AWEA’s Senior Electric Industry Analyst Michael Goggin, “Some representatives for competing energy sources have spent years propagating the myth that wind energy’s emissions savings are less than expected, despite having no peer-reviewed analysis to support their claims and being contradicted by all independent grid operator data and analysis. It is simple economics and science that wind energy directly displaces the output of the most expensive power plant, which is almost always the least efficient fossil-fired power plant.

“Some advocates for competing energy sources have even called for an analysis based on real-world data from emission monitors at power plants. With today’s study they got it, though they may not like the results. It is now impossible for anti-clean energy advocates to continue sticking their heads in the sand denying the reality of wind’s environmental benefits.”

The analysis of wind’s impact on fossil-fired power plants was largely conducted by engineers at Intertek, who specialize in optimizing the operation of power plants for utility clients. They used real-world hourly emissions data from nearly every power plant in the Western U.S., and their work was reviewed by 55 experts, including representatives of eight electric utilities.

For more information

The “Western Wind and Solar Integration Study” is available at this link

NREL will present the study’s results on a webinar at noon ET on Weds., Sept. 25, 2013

AWEA’s Inside the Wind blog summarizes the study’s results here

AWEA is the national trade association of the U.S. wind energy industry. We represent 1,000 member companies and over 100,000 jobs in the U.S. economy, serving as a powerful voice for how wind works for America. Members include global leaders in wind power and energy development, turbine manufacturing, and component and service suppliers. They gather each year at the Western Hemisphere’s largest wind power trade show, the AWEA WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition, next in Chicago, Illinois, May 7-10, 2018. Find information about wind energy on the AWEA website. Gain insight into industry issues on AWEA's blog, Into the Wind. And please join us on Facebook, and follow @AWEA on Twitter.