Wind Energy Leads U.S. Power Generation Growth

The trade group representing the U.S. wind energy industry says the sector emerged as the top provider of new utility-scale power generation in the nation in 2019, with 9.1 GW of large wind power projects coming online.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), in its Wind Powers America Annual Report 2019 released April 16, said wind energy accounted for 39% of all new U.S. generation capacity last year. The report said wind energy in total in the U.S. has moved above 100 GW of generation capacity, and supports 120,000 jobs.

The AWEA report said $14 billion was invested in new wind projects in 2019, and the industry made $1.6 billion in  payments to landowners, and states and communities, that host wind farms.

“U.S. wind power has grown significantly over the past decade, as consumers across the country increasingly turn to wind to provide affordable, reliable, and clean electricity for their communities,” said Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO. “Years of hard work culminated with wind power becoming America’s largest renewable energy provider in 2019, with a 50-state footprint of job creation and economic development. Wind’s near-record project pipeline indicates this growth will continue for years to come. While we are now working to mitigate the significant disruptions from COVID-19, we know that we will meet these challenges with strong industry momentum.”

The AWEA said the U.S. now has about 60,000 wind turbines operating in 41 states and two territories. The group’s report said 2019 capped off a decade that saw the U.S. more than triple its wind power generation capacity, with wind now the largest renewable energy resource based on generation capacity. AWEA said wind farms were responsible for about 30% of utility-scale power generation installations over the past 10 years.

Texas and Iowa led the country in wind power additions in 2019. South Dakota has the largest growth in terms of percentage, increasing installed generation capacity by more than 50%, to 506 MW. A total of 55 utility-scale projects, sited in 19 states, came online in 2019.

Wind power accounts for more than 7% of the nation’s electricity production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Wind power provided more than 20% of power generation in six states: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, and in Iowa and Kansas is the largest source of electricity production. Both states received more than 40% of their electricity from wind power in 2019.

44 GW Being Developed

About 44 GW of U.S. wind power generation projects is either under construction or in advanced stages of development, although the coronavirus pandemic threatens to slow the sector’s growth this year. Kiernan in March said $43 billion in wind energy investments are at risk from COVID-19 disruptions, covering about 25 GW of generation capacity.

Wind energy advocates have called on Congress to extend current production tax credit (PTC) legislation, under which wind projects are eligible to receive credit based on either the year the project begins operation, or the year in which they demonstrate that 5% of total capital cost for the project has been spent and project construction has begun. This “5% down” method, known as safe harboring, enables wind developers to receive the PTC at a given year’s level, but they must complete the project’s construction no more than four calendar years after the calendar year in which construction of the project began.

As an example, developers of U.S. wind projects who want to receive the full 2016 value of the PTC must bring their projects online by the end of this year. AWEA in March said that based on project statuses reported on the Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory—an EIA-compiled database—several of the wind projects scheduled to come online this year have December start dates, representing 5.7 GW of generation capacity, or 44.7% of the 2020 total.

Offshore Wind Projects Take Shape

Growth in offshore wind also is propelling the sector. East Coast states have made projections to develop more than 25 GW of offshore generation capacity by 2035, including starting development of 16 GW of new projects in 2019 alone. More than 4.4 GW of offshore wind capacity was confirmed by states and utilities through state-issued solicitations last year.

“Communities across the nation, especially rural communities, are experiencing first-hand the economic benefits that wind power delivers,” Kiernan said. “The wind industry’s rapid and continued growth has meant more family-sustaining jobs, more local manufacturing, more opportunities for veterans, and more support for farming communities, all while providing reliable, low-cost, and zero-carbon electricity for millions of Americans.”

AWEA noted that utilities and corporate buyers announced more than 8.7 GW of new wind power purchase agreements (PPAs) in 2019, with utilities signing up for more than 5 GW of wind energy.

Private industry accounted for 40% of the power purchase agreements signed last year, with Walmart and AT&T the top corporate buyers. Commercial and industrial wind projects and other distributed generation technologies are a focus of POWER’s Distributed Energy Conference, scheduled for Oct. 19-21 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Iconic U.S. companies are joining utilities in turning to wind energy to help drive their business goals and corporate social responsibility commitments forward,” Kiernan said. “Wind power provides long-term price stability, allowing companies to invest in their future, without worrying about the price they might have to pay for electricity. Many companies are also drawn to wind’s zero-carbon and zero-water attributes, which help them achieve their sustainability goals. And wind remains good for their bottom lines, since it’s the lowest cost source of electricity in many parts of the country.”

A Purdue University study that models increased wind production in 10 states shows wind energy has a significant economic impact in those states, and provides a multibillion-dollar boost to the rest of the U.S. as well. The analysis, published Wednesday, considers the effects of adding 500 megawatts each in 10 states that produce the most wind energy in the U.S.—Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. The result would be almost $24 billion in economic impact in those states, as well as an additional $3 billion throughout the rest of the United States, according to the study.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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