You can’t fully picture American wind energy without taking a good look at Kansas. Kansas has been a leader in developing this affordable, homegrown energy source, using it to create over 27 percent of its electricity. Only Iowa generates a greater share using wind.
What has resulted from this growth? Thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of private investment into Kansas’s economy, and more money in the pockets of families and businesses.
Despite this good news, recently there’s been some confusion about wind power is Kansas. I’m hoping to clear some of that up.
Here are the facts. In places like Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, wind energy is now the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity.
“(Wind)’s going to be one of the lowest-cost energy resources that we have in our generation mix, said Don Gray, general manager of the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities. “It’s a 20-year contract that creates stability for us in our pricing.”
We have good old-fashioned American ingenuity to thank for that, because advances in technology allow wind turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds, meaning they generate more electricity more of the time.
Improved domestic manufacturing also plays a big part. The majority of wind turbines are made right here in the U.S. by U.S. workers. Kansas alone has up to 6,000 wind jobs and five factories that build wind-related parts and materials.
Combined, this improved technology and better domestic manufacturing mean the price buyers pay for wind power fell 66 percent in just six years.
It is true that transmission helps bring wind-generated electricity from the windiest areas to the places where electricity demand is highest. However, studies show that upgrades to electricity grid more than pay for themselves, saving consumers money.
In fact, a study from the Southwest Power Pool found transmission upgrades it made between 2012 and 2014 saved each of its customers $800. The savings created by the grid upgrades were 3.5 times greater than the actual cost of the upgrades themselves. All told, the study found nearly $12 billion in benefits for consumers over the next 40 years.
Adding wind to Kansas’s generation mix creates a stronger, more diverse energy supply, and it doesn’t mean back up sources are needed when the wind doesn’t blow. Here’s why: individual wind plants typically generate electricity over 90 percent of the time. This number increases even further when grid operators aggregate the output of all wind plants, and all sources of supply and demand, over large regions. Decreases in output at one wind plant are typically canceled out by increases at another plant.
No power plants generate electricity 100 percent of the time; they require maintenance and often experience outages from unforeseen events. When these things happen, other plants on the electric grid step in, showing the importance of a diversified energy mix.
What has all of this development meant for Kansans? The state’s farmers and ranchers are paid up to $15 million in lease payments every year for hosting turbines. That’s revenue they can count on when the rains don’t fall or the fields don’t produce.
But landowners aren’t the only ones who benefit — whole communities do. In 2013 alone, wind saved families and businesses on the Southwest Power Pool (which Kansas is part of) $1.2 billion on their electric bills. Through 2050, wind could save Kansans more than $1.6 billion on electric bills, on top of another nearly $4 billion saved in protection from conventional fuel price spikes.
As Gov. Sam Brownback has said, “Our state has a rich abundance of this home-grown, renewable energy and we are happy to add it to our list of Kansas export commodities alongside oil and natural gas, beef and wheat.”
Kansas wind energy is creating jobs, strengthening communities and saving money. That’s something we can all be proud of.