"I think nationwide there’s been a slowdown for a number of reasons," said Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark. "Two thousand nine was definitely an exceptional year."
New wind turbines installations boomed last year. According a recent report by the federal Department of Energy, "Wind power additions in 2009 shattered old records, with roughly 10 (gigawatts) of new wind energy capacity added in the United States and $21 billion invested."
New wind farm projects last year grew by 20 percent over 2008, and the country increased its generation capacity by 40 percent, said the DOE report, released this month. However, activity this year is down to 2007 levels, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
"At mid-year, U.S. installations of new wind farm generating capacity remained far below levels for comparable periods in 2008 and 2009," AWEA stated in its midyear market report.
North Dakota also is seeing a downturn in new generation capacity from last year, though expected additions in 2010 are still adding up to be the second busiest year for the state, according to statistics provided by Clark.
For 2010, additional wind power capacity of 315 megawatts are projected to come online, with 267.8 megawatts already added, under construction or permitted. New capacity for 2009 was 711 megawatts.
Generation additions this year include:
–19.5 megawatts by MDU Resources Group wind farm near Rhame. –75.9 megawatts by Minnesota Power near New Salem. –102 megawatts by NextEra Energy near Baldwin. –70 megawatts by NextEra near Valley City.
"I think there’s going to continue to be new growth, good growth," Clark said. The extent of how much new capacity can be added depends on the demand for energy and the transmission infrastructure available to move electricity to out-of-state markets.
"That’s always an ongoing analysis," said Basin Electric Energy Cooperative spokesman Daryl Hill, referring to the market for new electrical generation and how the cooperative will grow to meet it.
Basin’s recent additions include its 120-megawatt installation near Minot and the Baldwin project, which the utility does not own but will purchase electricity from. Next month, it will launch a 151-megawatt wind farm in central South Dakota.
NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel said that the Florida-based company plans to add 600 to 850 megawatts of capacity, though that is less than what it originally planned.
"We have scaled back our plans," Stengel said. "Obviously the economy has something to do with it. Demand is down."
According to Clark, the recession has reduced demand for energy. At the same time, over the past few years new capacity in wind and other forms of generation grew so energy providers need to wait for demand to catch up with supply again.
"The recession had a huge impact on what kind of power demand there is," Clark said.
That has not been the case so much in North Dakota, and demand for renewable energy has kept wind developers active here, though not at the furious pace of 2009.
"I think our overall demand has had a little bit of growth," said MDU spokesman Mark Hanson.
North Dakota’s total wind capacity is 1,206 megawatts today, but will rise to between 1,454 and 1,502 by the year’s end, Clark said. Nationwide, developers added 1,240 megawatts of generation in 2010, bringing the total to more than 36,300 megawatts, according to AWEA.
The association has called for renewable energy standards to stabilize demand for energy and spur more development. Stengel said that the industry would like to see a national policy for renewable energy use, and the failure of Congress to act on an energy plan has dampened growth.
"I think there is a lot of uncertainty about where energy policy is in this country," he said.
The DOE’s report on last year’s wind activity says that federal policy — with tax credits, grants, stimulus funding and other incentives — is more favorable toward wind that it has been at any other in the past 10 years.
However, the continuation of these policies is not certain beyond 2012. Although the rate of development in the past few years puts the country on pace for wind to supply 20 percent of generation by 2030, several things have made 2010 a less busy year for the industry.
"Despite the growth in installed capacity in 2009, the combination of the financial crisis, lower wholesale electricity prices, and lower demand for renewable energy has taken a toll on the wind power industry," the report said.
By Christopher Bjorke, The Bismarck Tribune, www.bismarcktribune.com