Colorado Still Leading the Way in Green Energy
The Centennial State ranked in the top 10 states for wind energy production in 2015, with 14 percent of its net power production coming from wind.
A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration revealed that in 2015, Colorado passed a major milestone regarding electricity generated from wind power. According to the latest data available, the Centennial State ranked in the top 10 states for wind energy production in 2015, with 14 percent of its net power production coming from wind. For comparison, the U.S. as a whole sources only 4.7 percent of its total energy from windmills.
"Wind power accounted for 14 percent of the state's energy production in 2015."
That statistic points to a growing trend of Colorado as a national leader in renewable energy, particularly regarding wind energy. The Denver Post noted that the state is investing and benefiting more from wind energy than most other states, a net positive for the local economy and environment. However, a number of challenges remain for everyone involved as wind and other renewable energy sources approach what could be a significant turning point.
The benefits of wind power
Humans have been harnessing the power of wind for millennia to propel ships around the world and perform energy-intensive work like milling grain. Today, the same principles applied to the construction of windmills centuries ago are still used to create modern wind farms that can generate electricity without pollution and at an unbeatable price. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the nation's cumulative wind power capacity has grown at an average rate of 30 percent per year, slightly more than the global average of 28 percent.
Much of this rapid growth is due to the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of wind power. It is among the cheapest sources of renewable energy, costing as little as four cents per kilowatt-hour. But perhaps the most attractive facet of wind power is its ability to create sustainable employment and income that benefits the U.S. economy as a whole. The DOE estimated wind farm projects employed more than 73,000 people in 2014, and contributed $8 billion to the economy that year. This is only expected to improve in the years to come.
The cost-effectiveness of wind power has made it increasingly able to compete with conventional forms of energy, including coal and natural gas. While the prices and availability of these fossil fuels is constantly in flux, wind is almost always available and generally reliable. With a good location and maximum utilization of land, wind farms such as those along the eastern plains of Colorado produced around 7.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2015. That number is only expected to rise as more generators are built and the technology becomes more efficient. According to The Denver Post, energy experts hope to expand Colorado's wind capacity enough to reach 28 percent of the state's total energy production by 2020.
Wind and renewable challenges
Even in the brief history of large-scale renewable power generation, wind is nothing new, and has been producing inexpensive electricity for decades. However, rapid advances made in solar energy technology are threatening to end wind's longstanding reign as the cheapest renewable energy source. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported, solar energy prices have dropped dramatically since 2009, and have already dipped below the cost of coal-sourced power in some parts of the world. At this rate, analysts expect solar power to cost less per megawatt-hour than wind as soon as 2030.
There are a number of reasons why solar has caught up to wind so quickly in terms of cost-effectiveness. In the last 10 years, projects to design and build solar farms more efficiently have paid off well. Individual solar cells now harness more of the sun's energy than before, while affordably building them on a massive scale has made solar energy more widely available.
Wind power has not seen this level of advancement primarily because the underlying technology was already quite efficient. But there are some other issues with wind power that have also impeded growth:
- Many areas with sustained high winds are not close to major population centers, particularly in Colorado, where the best wind power sites are along the state's western plains. In this region, eastbound air is pressurized by the Rocky Mountains to the west, creating strong winds. But this area is far from Colorado's biggest cities. Transporting power over greater distances only increases its cost.
- Securing land for wind turbine and power line construction is also challenging. Landowners may be hesitant to allow access to wind farm projects due to concerns of more profitable land use alternatives, or simply for aesthetic reasons. Although wind turbines are much less harmful to the environment than a conventional fossil fuel power plant, they do still generate noise and can affect local wildlife.
While wind and solar each have their own advantages over each other, their low cost compared to fossil fuel doesn't mean they can totally replace these energy sources anytime soon. No matter how efficient they are, wind and solar farms are beholden to the weather, which will always be unpredictable. To provide large amounts of energy during periods of peak demand, power providers still rely on fossil fuel generators that can turn on quickly as needed.
Still, wind and solar fill a useful role in large-scale power production by evening out demand peaks and putting less strain on conventional power sources. As more states follow Colorado's lead in green energy innovation, America's electricity is sure to get cleaner and more affordable with every passing year.