Imagine a future in which a third of our nation’s electricity came from wind power. Activists around the country say that’s possible in the next 15 years. Here in Washington, it would mean getting eight times more electricity from windmills.
That’s according to a new report from Environment Washington, the organization that has been spearheading policies to phase out disposable plastic shopping bags here and all over the country. The group, which is part of a nationwide network, released its report, titled More Wind, Less Warming, in about 20 states simultaneously this week.
In Washington, the report earned the blessing of Gov. Jay Inslee and his newly appointed clean tech expert, Brian Young. Young is known as a navigator for the sector, and his job is to grow it. He says the target outlined in Environment Washington’s new report — of producing eight times more electricity from wind power in Washington by 2030 — is a good stretch goal.
“We’re going to have to be ambitious if we’re going to change the tide in this country and in the world, really, so I congratulate them for being ambitious. I think it’s doable,” Young said.
The goal would also help meet targets to cut carbon pollution from coal and gas power plants to reduce pollution from greenhouse gases that cause climate change. But there’s caveat. Congress needs to renew a federal clean energy tax credit that’s set to expire next week.
This week, Inslee joined with Governors Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota ,John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Terry Branstad of Iowa in urging lawmakers to extend renewable energy tax incentives. They sent a letter to House and Senate leadership making the case for a multi-year extension of the production tax credit and investment tax credit as soon as possible.
“They’re crucial to the continued development, not only of the traditional wind industry, but to get offshore really going,” said Youmg. “You’re going to need that investment tax credit to be brought back, two years at a minimum, I would say.”
Offshore wind is a key part of reaching the 30 percent target nationwide. In Washington, those would be floating windmills tethered to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean with anchors.
And eight times more wind power probably doesn’t mean eight times as many turbines, says Karen Conover, a renewable energy consultant who sits on the board of the American Wind Energy Association.
“Because in that 15 years, we can have remarkable amounts of improvements, both in cost and efficiency. There’s a lot of technical innovation still to capture in this industry. And the increase [we’re talking about] is in electricity generation,” Conover said.
However, Conover says it’s doubtful any new projects will come online without the federal tax credit. Unless congress acts next week, she anticipates layoffs in the industry. She says her firm, DNV GL, employs about 100 wind energy consultants in Seattle, its largest concentration in the country of those specialists.
Washington’s major utilities all rely on wind energy now as part of their renewables strategy, which is required under the law voted in when Washington approved Initiative 937. Currently, the two largest utilities, Puget Sound Energy and Snohomish County PUD, both use about 8 percent wind power to serve their customer’s electricity needs. Seattle City Light says about 4 percent of its electric power comes from wind. None is actively looking to grow their use of wind power, though nothing's off the table.