Find out how First Wind is managing environmental impacts at Stetson Wind.


Knowledge Base

Environmental Benefits

Wind energy offers a distinct alternative to burning fossil fuels to produce electricity.  About 90% of conventional grid electricity in the United States derives from non-renewable energy sources, namely: coal (45%), natural gas (23%), and nuclear (20%) [1]. In varying degrees, non-renewable energy resources impact the environment, public health and economic productivity due to the effects of mining and drilling, transportation, combustion, and resulting pollution and waste streams [2]. By comparison, wind is both renewable and clean.

Renewable: Unlike raw materials like coal, natural gas, and oil, wind is infinitely renewable. Harvesting wind resources does not deplete future wind capacity or “reserves.” The renewable nature of wind energy means its costs are predictable and relatively fixed over long periods of time - unlike fossil fuels, which fluctuate according to supply, demand and reserve estimates.

Clean: Burning coal, natural gas, and oil to drive steam turbines for electricity generation produces two forms of pollution: criteria pollutants (particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, lead), which are regulated by the EPA; and greenhouse gases (“GHG”), including carbon dioxide. Conventional electricity sources are a major source of air pollution, which, along with ground-level ozone pose the most immediate and widespread threats to public health [3,4]. The National Research Council estimates that annual damage from pollution at coal-fired power plants in the U.S. exceeds $60 billion, or 3.2 cents for every kilowatt hour produced [5].

Turbines driven by wind energy emit neither pollutants nor GHGs associated with conventional electricity production. And unlike conventional power plants, wind energy facilities do not require vast amounts of freshwater for cooling, thereby avoiding thermal and physical pollution of rivers, lakes and watersheds. When utility-scale wind energy projects are generating clean electricity, conventional power plants can be backed down, requiring less fossil fuels and resulting pollution, emissions, and water usage.

These impacts add up. In its report, U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2009: A Retrospective Review, the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) demonstrates that the 11-fold jump in wind energy capacity since 2000 "was responsible for about 39 million metric tons of avoided emissions in 2009 relative to electricity supplied at the average emissions rate” [6].

For a more local example: at First Wind’s Kaweaha Wind Power (“KWP”) facility on Maui, generation in a typical year [7]:

  • Avoids import and combustion of 237,000 barrels of oil
  • Offsets 82,000 tons of CO2; 345 tons of NOX, and 127 tons of SOX
  • Powers about 11,500 homes 

Sources

1- EIA; 2011 Annual Energy Outlook, Figure 77 - Electricity generation by fuel, 2007, 2009, and 2035

2- Paul R. Epstein, et al; Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal; Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1219: 73–98

3- EPA; What Are the Six Common Air Pollutants?

4- EPA; Particulate Matter National Summary 

5- National Academies; Hidden Health and Environmental Costs of Energy Production

6- EIA; U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2009: A Retrospective Review

7- Environmental offsets are modeled using data from First Wind project generation and EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) - a comprehensive source of regionally specific data on the environmental characteristics of nearly all electric power generated in the United States.

 

Find out the emissions levels near your town with the EPA’s Power Profiler.

 

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