Wind energy works in rural Colorado
Author: Tom Darin? - August 5, 2013 - Updated: August 5, 2013
For the first time since May 2008, Colorado’s total jobs numbers are larger than they were before what some have termed “the Great Recession.”
While this is good news worth mentioning, it’s clear Coloradans are hungry for a lot more good news about jobs and the Colorado economy.
Well there’s good news, Colorado — wind power is up to the task.
Colorado is known as one of the windiest states in the nation. In fact, the wind blowing through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and rich farmland has the potential to provide more than 24 times the state’s current electricity needs.
Due to effective state and federal policies encouraging its growth, wind power now provides over 11 percent of Colorado’s electricity needs and at several points, it has supplied more than half of the electricity on the main Colorado utility system. Across the country, American wind power now supplies over 10 percent of the electricity needs in nine states and over 20 percent in Iowa and South Dakota.
Wind power’s impressive growth has translated into an economic waterfall for workers, rural landowners and farmers, not just in Colorado, but across the country. Altogether, that economic waterfall has fed an ocean of economic investment averaging $17.9 billion per year in our national economy and $87 million dollars annually in Colorado’s rural economies alone.
American wind power supports more than 80,000 well-paying manufacturing and construction jobs, including close to 4,000 jobs right here in Colorado. While some of those jobs are due to new utility-scale wind projects in Colorado, most of them exist because wind power parts manufacturers have chosen our state over others. Thanks to companies like Vestas, Hexcel and Aldridge Electric calling Colorado home, manufacturing facilities in Colorado represented over $1 billion of investment in the state.
American farmers, ranchers and other landowners also benefit from renewable energy. Across the country, farmers, ranchers and other landowners can receive lease payments of up to $120,000 over a 20-year period for each wind turbine installed on their property. In Colorado alone, landowners leasing their property to wind take home approximately $7 million annually.
Wind farms in Colorado pay over $2 million in property taxes annually in Weld, Logan and Lincoln counties alone, in addition to wind lease payments to state land boards that support 17 school districts. Altogether wind power projects and supply chain facilities exist in over 25 percent of Colorado counties — Adam, Baca, Bent, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Huerfano, Jefferson, Kit Carson, Larimer, Lincoln, Logan, Prowers, Pueblo, Weld and Yuma.
Farmers and ranchers can feel good about wind power for another important reason — since producing electricity from wind requires no water, Colorado wind helps conserve Colorado’s valuable water resources. In fact, installed Colorado wind power saves 2.4 billion gallons of water annually, or 460 gallons per person, in the state.
Wind power benefits Colorado ratepayers too. For example, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has publicly explained that a single wind purchase by Xcel Energy “will save ratepayers $100 million on a net-present-value basis over its 25-year term.” Overall, government data shows electricity rates increased by twice as much in the 40 states with the least wind power between 2005 and 2010 as they did in the top 10 states for wind generation. Savings like those across the state means more money can be spent toward groceries, paying for gas at the pump, or saving for a child’s college education.
The benefits aren’t all economic in nature either. Colorado can breathe happy knowing wind is keeping our air clean. The U.S. Department of Energy has reported states that have ramped up their wind energy production over the last several years, like Colorado and Texas, have seen major reductions in air pollution (and CO2) emissions. Every independent utility system operator that has looked at the issue has found that adding wind energy results in significant reductions in fossil fuel use and emissions. Keeping Colorado’s stunning scenery clean for our children and their children’s children to enjoy is something we can take pride in.
Colorado wind power is a true American success story, and one that has only just begun.
Susan Innis is the senior public affairs manager for Vestas. Tom Darin is the Western regional representative of the American Wind Energy Association. Sarah Cottrell Propst is the executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance.