Guest Blog, by Carly Buchanan
Wind farms speckled the sprawling green fields of the Spanish countryside outside my train window as I rode from Madrid to Barcelona last October, and then more in Ávila, Santiago de Compostela, and León. I even saw a now-defunct, antiquated set of windmills, or molinas, in a small town outside of Toledo, where tourists now pose in front of them for pictures.
Apparently, my experience is indicative of a larger clean energy trend. According to a new BusinessGreen.com article, Spain’s greenhouse gas emissions fell approximately 23.1percent in 2013, primarily due to wind farms and hydroelectric plants. “It is worth noting that wind power has been, for the first time ever, the technology that contributed most to the annual electricity demand coverage…hydroelectric energy doubled its contribution [in 2013]”. From a wind industry advocate? No, it’s from the annual report of Real Eléctrica de España (REE), the Spanish corporation in charge of the country’s national electric grid.
So, what can we learn from the renewable energy efforts in Spain? Could a similar change in the United States lead to a similar rejuvenation of our power sources?
According to the Early Release Overview of statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewables only made up 11 percent of energy production up to 2012, with a projected contribution of only 12 percent in 2014. As can be seen in Figure 11, renewable energy production is the second-lowest category, only one percent above nuclear energy production. Comparatively, 38 percent of energy production has been attributed to natural gas, while 26 and 22 percent have been attributed to coal and crude oil, respectively.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) website, “every state in the United States has either an operational wind energy project or a wind-related manufacturing facility, or both.” The United States has experienced about 30% wind power growth on average in the last five years. This, the AWEA says, makes the U.S. a “major market for wind energy globally.”
AWEA.org also states that 60,000 megawatts of energy are generated by the nearly 900 utility-scale wind projects scattered across 39 states and Puerto Rico. To put that information on a more local scale, Virginia has five wind-manufacturing facilities, and Maryland has three.
But will Spain’s growth continue? Maybe not, now that the country’s economic crisis has led to the end of their incentive program, which rewarded new solar, wind, and biomass plants. According to BusinessGreen, the government’s Council of Ministers recently approved a plan to suspend these incentives immediately, as the program had already begun to accumulate a significant amount of debt. On a hopeful note, however, Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria said that the suspension would not keep Spain from meeting its European Union renewable energy target. Maybe we will follow Spain’s lead in wind farms and hydroelectric plants, and obtain similarly impressive results.