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New Fact Sheet Illustrates Southeastern U.S.' Enormous Wind Power Potential

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In 2013, the southeastern U.S. produced 1,171 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity. Of that, 67.7% was generated using health-and-environment-harming coal and natural gas, with another 25% produced by expensive nuclear power plants. Only 2.2% was generated by "other renewables," and almost none of that was solar or wind. Yet, according to this new fact sheet from the Southeastern Wind Coalition, the southeastern U.S. has the potential within just 5-10 years to produce 6,234 TWh/year -- more than five times the entire amount of electricity the southeastern U.S. generated in 2013.

Impressive. Along those same lines, also note:

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), just four states (VA, NC, SC, and GA) have about 63% of the total East Coast offshore wind resource in less than 30 meters of water. If we look at resource greater than 12 miles offshore and in less than 30 meters of water, those same four states have 82% of the East Coast resource.

NREL estimates the technical potential within 50 miles of the coast of VA, NC, SC, and GA to be about 583 gigawatts, which which is equal to about two times the electricity demand of every coastal state from Maine to Florida. This region has the potential to be a significant exporter of offshore wind energy.

In sum, not only could the southeastern U.S. produce all of its power from wind, it could produce enough to export, potentially earning billions of dollars for the regional economy. Of course, offshore wind power is more expensive than onshore wind power, but as with everything else, costs will come down sharply once we start building "to scale" (see this study for some thoughts on that topic). Also keep in mind that wind power emits no health-and-environment-damaging pollution, whether we're talking about greenhouses gases, toxic substances of various kinds, particulates, whatever. Offshore wind power doesn't require removing the tops of mountains. It doesn't "spill" like oil does. It doesn't contaminate our water supplies or require massive amounts of water to produce it, as "fracked" natural gas does (in fact, wind power requires ZERO water to produce). It's not even an "eyesore," since it would be located well offshore.

So what's the holdup? Basically, it's two major things: 1) counterproductive, dysfunctional, nonsensical, or to be nice "suboptimal" public policy, which massively subsidizes fossil fuels, while tilting the playing field in a myriad of other ways (e.g., not correcting for market failure by imposing a sizable tax on fossil fuel's pollution) against clean energy and in favor of dirty energy; and 2) the fact that offshore wind power currently costs somewhat more than heavily-subsidized, non-internalized fossil fuels (although, on that point, see the graph below regarding cost trends for onshore wind vs. natural gas).

Of course, to correct #2, we need to fix #1. And that will require our political leaders to realize what a huge opportunity their states are missing due to the failure to exploit their tremendous wind power potential. Let's hope that fact sheets like this one will help to change their minds.

Topics: Clean Economy