Most people have heard about how wind energy is one of the cleanest ways to generate electricity. But what exactly are the specific environmental advantages to wind energy?

Wind-powered electricity generation provides significant environmental benefits because it produces neither emissions nor toxic waste and uses much less water than conventional fuel sources. For example, per kilowatt-hour produced, wind uses 1/500th the amount of water coal utilizes and 1/600th the amount of water nuclear utilizes. This ensures water security for residents living near wind turbines and for farmers who need water for irrigation.

Wind energy displaces pollutants that are associated with conventional energy generation. These pollutants include mercury, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. Mercury contamination causes developmental problems in children while particulate matter and sulfur dioxide result in increased incidences of acid rain, smog, asthma and heart problems. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that if wind power represented 20% of the United States’ electricity generation, over one third of the deleterious emissions that normally enter the atmosphere from coal fired power plants would be prevented.

By capturing the power of the renewable resource of wind, turbines emit no greenhouse gases while operating. This helps mitigate threat of climate change and its associated effects. A 2004 study in Nature estimated that a moderate increase in global temperatures from climate change could result in the extinction of 19-45% of the world’s species. Furthermore, rising global temperatures contribute to increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather changes such as increased tropical storms, wildfires, and rising sea levels that threaten low lying areas.

National Wind has 1,300 MW of wind in development in Minnesota. If constructed, these projects would displace about 3,251 short tons of CO2, 20 short tons of NOx, and 421 short tons of SO2 annually, while providing enough power to generate electricity for 379,000 households.

That’s more than enough power to provide clean electricity for Minnesota’s three largest cities combined and to prevent 1.8 million tons of coal from ever being used. That’s a lot of clean energy!