A wind farm in Texas
U.S. Department of Energy
The Department of Energy just put out a new report that should have renewable energy supporters cheering from coast to coast. In 2012, wind energy became the number one source of new energy generation in the United States – amounting to 43% of new energy generated. This is a huge and important step in transitioning the United States from a country focused on fossil fuels of the past to one that uses the wind and the sun in the future.
To give a little context to how much we have been generating from wind, the Department of Energy reports that:
Last year, over 13 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power capacity were added to the U.S. grid – nearly double the wind capacity deployed in 2011. This tremendous growth helped America’s total wind power capacity surpass 60 GW at the end of 2012 – representing enough capacity to power more than 15 million homes each year, or as many homes as in California and Washington state combined.
That’s a staggering amount of energy and speaks to the ability this country has to harness its natural resources for electricity with the proper policies in place.
Renewable energy from wind and solar doubled in President Obama’s first term, and as part of his action plan to combat climate change, the President is setting his sights on increasing renewable energy production even more in his second term, with our public lands playing a leading role. This is great news, but it means as a nation, we should be thinking about how to sustain this renewable energy burst into the future. In fact, without some important policies, this could be the high point of the renewable energy revolution on which we are on the cusp.
Our public lands are a great source of opportunity for wind and solar power, but it needs to be done safe and responsibly with proper research to make sure the projects are being sited in low impact areas. In order to make sure these projects are being done “Smart from the Start” the nation needs to have certainty for investments in place. This means a long term extension of key incentives like the Production Tax Credit for wind energy and the Investment Tax Credit for solar. This will give the industry the knowledge that their long term investments will pay off and that we can plan and site the energy responsibly with the proper planning in place.
We also need to make sure that when renewable energy development occurs, the negative impacts are offset by investments in conservation and local communities. The Wilderness Society has been working hard on the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, a bipartisan bill that would direct money from electricity produced from wind and solar back to states, counties and conservation. This bill would pay back the land and also lead to smart renewable energy siting.
If the United States is going to continue growing its renewable energy sector, it needs to be done with the proper tools in place. The good news is we are on the right path to making sure that clean and renewable energy is the future.