Oregon tops nation in third-quarter wind energy projects

The quarter that ended Sept. 30 was the slowest since 2007 for the wind power industry nationwide, although Oregon topped the charts in terms of new wind farm capacity installed during the period, according to a report from the American Wind Energy Association.

The U.S. industry added just 395 megawatts (MW) of wind farm powered electric generating capacity in the third quarter of 2010, making it the lowest quarter since 2007.

Year-to-date installations stood at 1,634 MW, down 72 percent versus 2009, and the lowest level since 2006. In 2010, wind farm projects in the U.S. are being installed at half the rate as in Europe, and a third of the rate as in China.

Oregon’s No. 1 quarterly ranking, pushing it past perennial leader Texas, reflected an industrywide slowdown combined with Portland General Electric Co.’s completion of the third phase of its Biglow Canyon Wind Farm. That project added 76 wind turbines in Sherman County capable of producing 175 megawatts of electricity.

In terms of overall wind farm capacity installed, Oregon’s 2,095 megawatts now ranks fourth behind Texas, Iowa and California, and just ahead of Washington’s 1,964 megawatts.

National wind energy development trends have been highly dependent on the availability of tax incentives and state regulations mandating renewables development.

Last year was a banner year, mostly due to a stimulus measure that sent wind farm developers cash grants equal to thirty percent of their project costs in lieu of federal tax credits, which were proving difficult to monetize due the recession.

Several wind farm projects in the northwest took advantage of the grants, and industry advocates are lobbying Congress to extend them until 2012, when the current production tax credit program expires.

Whatever happens nationally, the Northwest still has a major backlog of projects under development, driven by state renewable energy mandates in the three West Coast states.

Jeff King, an analyst with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, says he expects an eventual slowdown in Northwest wind farm development as its biggest driver of demand — California — continues aggressive development of solar power resources and as utilities there complete new transmission lines allowing them to access significant and price-competitive wind resources northeast of the Los Angeles basin.

There are now 14 states with over 1,000 MW of wind farm installed and 37 states with some utility-scale wind farm installed.


By Ted Sickinger, www.oregonian.com