Winds of change

How American wind energy surpassed coal and nuclear for the first time in history

Wind power

Wind power hits major milestone

On March 29, wind power produced more electricity in America than the nation’s nuclear and coal plants combined. The 2,017 gigawatt-hours of wind power was enough to make wind the country’s second-largest producer of electricity for the first time — trailing only natural gas, which produced 3,287 gigawatt-hours that day.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, roughly 3,000 wind turbines have been built in the U.S. annually since 2005, and more than 70,800 turbines were in operation in January of 2022 (photo credit: Shutterstock)

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, seasonal factors played a role in reaching the milestone. Electricity demand often declines in the spring as fewer people need heat. Anticipating this decline can prompt coal and nuclear plants to reduce output or schedule routine maintenance. By contrast, wind strength often peaks in the spring. But, last month was the first time these seasonal factors blew wind into second place when it comes to powering our country. 

America is going big on wind power

America’s wind industry has seen consistent growth over the past decade. Since 2011, America has nearly tripled the amount of wind power it produces. Today, America harnesses enough wind energy to power more than 31 million homes.

U.S. wind energy production nearly tripled from 2011 to 2020. Source: Renewables on the Rise, Environment America Research and Policy Center

States are leading the way to go big on wind power

While states with wide open prairies lead the way, wind power usage isn’t just a regional phenomenon. In recent years, this renewable energy source has made great strides in the Great Lakes region and on the Pacific coast as well, with unprecedented offshore lease auctions this year offering promise for rapid wind power expansion in the Northeast.

Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa top the list of states with the most wind generation added between 2011 and 2020 (GWH). Source: Renewables on the Rise.

What has contributed to the rise in wind power? 

State and federal policies that support offshore wind development such as renewable portfolio standards and tax credits for wind development, factor into the growth of wind power. 

In addition, wind turbine technology has improved substantially over the past decade. As documented in Environment America Research & Policy Center’s report Renewables on the Rise, in 2019, the average installed wind turbine had 42% greater power capacity than one installed in 2010, and the area swept by the average turbine’s rotors doubled in that time period.

As adoption increases and technology improves, prices are expected to continue to drop. One study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that the cost of wind energy is expected to fall 50% by 2030 from 2017 cost levels.

Will wind energy continue to grow? 

Experts expect continued transitions to wind power in the coming decades. In particular, offshore wind has the potential to play a big role in part because the Biden administration announced the United States’ first ever national offshore wind goal.

The goal is to reach 30 gigawatts by 2030, enough to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes for a year, and avoid the creation of 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Goal-setting often leads to action, and offshore wind is no exception. Over the past year, America’s first two major offshore wind projects were approved, California became the first West Coast state to commit to offshore wind, and the record-smashing bids at coastal lease auctions left comparable oil and gas lease auctions in the dust.

How can you help America continue to go big on wind power: 

Renewable energy, including wind power, is at a critical moment. To build a sustainable society and leave dirty, dangerous fossil fuels in the past, we need Congress to expand and update clean energy tax incentives for technologies that facilitate the generation of wind energy. Join us in asking Congress to go big on clean energy for a brighter, healthier future by taking action below.

Tell Congress to support vital clean energy programs

Tell Congress to support vital clean energy programs

Renewable energy is at a critical moment. To build a sustainable society and leave dirty, dangerous fossil fuels in the past, we need to expand and update clean energy tax incentives. Join us in asking Congress to go big on clean energy for a brighter, healthier future.

Tell Congress to support vital clean energy programs

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Authors

Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center

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