As the underdogs in the energy world, wind and solar power are constantly trying to make their case against coal and other entrenched forms of power. While they have the advantage of being cleaner than fossil fuels, several factors—including price and intermittency—still put them at a competitive disadvantage.


One selling point for wind power recently emerged during a cold snap. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), record regional outputs of wind power helped consumers save money even while they were trying to stay warm.


The AWEA reports that record wind outputs in a 24-hour period helped offset price spikes and high fuel costs in three regions. In the MidContinent Independent System Operator (MISO) region, wind output reached a record 11,725 megawatts (MW) toward midnight on Jan. 6. The region includes all or parts of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.


The next morning, wind power set a record output of 7,625 MW in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) region, which services all or parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. According to the AWEA, wind power also reached near record levels during the same period in the 13-state, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes power grid (operated by PJM 
Interconnection).


While the output is noteworthy, the timing is even more important, according to AWEA. This record-breaking generation occurred while the regions were battling extreme cold temperatures. Normally, extreme temperatures drive electricity costs upward, as demand increases and spot market prices for fuel drives power generators’ costs sky high.


In contrast, wind power has no fuel costs, and prices are not set on the spot market. Instead, they are set up-front when a contract is signed and remain constant regardless of fluctuations in other energy markets. As wind power assumes a larger share of a grid’s portfolio, this long-term stability translates into a bigger cushion against price spikes in other markets.


According to the AWEA, wind power played a similar role during last winter’s extreme weather. In a recent report, “Wind Energy Saves Consumers Money During the Polar Vortex,” the AWEA analyzes the financial impact of wind power during an extreme cold front that hit the East Coast on Jan. 6–7 of last year. Looking specifically at the impact on the 13-state PJM, the report finds that wind saved consumers about $15 per person on their electricity bills. Collectively, the savings amounted to at least $1 billion.