How should our country generate the energy and electricity needed to heat homes?
For years, fossil fuels like coal and natural gas have been the main source, but President Joe Biden's economic spending plans, which could get a vote in the House next week, call for more wind turbines.
So, what would that look like? And how could it benefit towns across America and here in Southern Arizona?
SOUTHERN ARIZONA TURBINE ENERGY
Arizona's electricity generation comes mostly from natural gas. Nuclear and coal come in second and third. Wind only makes up a little more than half of one percent.
Last year, Arizona Public Service Company, which provides energy mostly in the Phoenix area, announced a collaboration with Leeward Renewable Energy that will allow Arizona Public Service Company to purchase wind output from two wind facilities based in New Mexico.
WHY IS THERE A SCARCITY OF WIND TURBINES IN ARIZONA?
According to Arizona Solar Center, there just aren't enough consistently windy spots to make the state commercially viable for companies.
That's not to say there aren't any wind farms. Outside of Willcox, you can find a column of turbines standing sentinel over a stretch of land west of South Fork Canyon.
TRIP TO RURAL TEXAS
Texas may be known for oil and gas, but in Taft, Texas, it's all about wind.
"It's windy," Elida Castillo said as she walked toward a wind turbine.
Castillo is an organizer with Chispa, a climate advocacy group in Texas.
While there are many "windy" cities in the country, it would be hard to find a town where the wind is as much a part of life as it is in Taft, Texas.
In total, there are around 200 or so wind turbines there. That averages out to be about one turbine for every 15 people who live in Taft.
Each turbine is around 400 feet tall — taller than the Statue of Liberty.
“We are taking something, something that is provided to us naturally, and using it for energy," Castillo said.
MORE WIND COMING
2020 produced a record amount of new wind power installations in the country, even in the middle of the pandemic. It accounted for 42% of all new sources of energy last year, according to the Department of Energy.
But the extent to which wind production grows further is very much dependent on whether Biden gets his spending package through Congress. That bill is separate from the infrastructure bill which has already been passed.
Currently, the spending legislation contains $235 billion worth of tax incentives for renewable energy, meant to encourage companies to make investments in projects like the one in Taft.
CHANGES IN SMALL TOWNS
Sergio Contreras with the Rio Grande Valley Partnership says wind turbine construction doesn’t just create jobs in places where there are few — it creates new forms of tax revenue. The county government where the Taft turbines were built has received over $40 million from the operator since 2006.
It’s also transforming education.
“The community colleges have implemented brand new programs to provide this workforce. A two-year program will produce a worker that will be paid $55,000," Contreras said.
As for Castillo, she admits the town isn’t entirely relying on wind to live.
After all, Texas is still drilling plenty of oil, and refiners and plants are visible around Taft, too. However, she says if her town can contribute just a little more to the environment, other towns can too.
“If Texas can do it, anybody can do it,” Castillo said.