America’s wind energy industry built 5,115 megawatts of wind power last year, barely half of 2009’s record pace, but entered 2011 with over 5,600 megawatts currently under construction – and with wind turbines cost-competitive with natural gas for new electric generation, utilities are moving to lock in favorable rates.
"Wind power is a great deal right now in many areas of the country," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). "However, our industry continues to endure a boom-bust cycle because of the lack of long-term, predictable federal policies, in contrast to the permanent entitlements that fossil fuels have enjoyed for 90 years or more.
"Now that we’re competing with natural gas on cost, we need consistent federal policies to ensure we have a diverse portfolio of energy sources in this country, and don’t become overreliant on one source or another."
AWEA reported today that 3,195 megawatts (MW) of wind farm powered electric generating capacity came online in the fourth quarter of 2010. That performance was below the 4,113 MW installed in the same period in 2009, but a leap from the third quarter of 2010, when only 670 MW were installed. The U.S. finished the year with a total of 5,115 MW of new wind power.
Buoyed by a one-year extension of the 1603 Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy in the final days of the 111th Congress, the industry entered the new year with over 5,600 MW of wind farm electric power currently under construction, well above the same time a year earlier. Further projects are expected to start up in time to meet the new construction deadline for the tax credit, now set to expire at the end of 2011. The industry is likely to finish 2011 ahead of 2010 numbers, according to Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA Director of Industry Data & Analysis.
"Wind’s costs have dropped over the past two years, with power purchase agreements being signed in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour recently." Salerno said. "With uncertainty around natural gas and power prices as the economy recovers, wind’s long-term price stability is even more valued. We expect that utilities will move to lock in more wind contracts, given the cost-competitive nature of wind in today’s market."
Total U.S. wind energy capacity now stands at 40,180 MW, an increase in capacity of 15% over the start of 2010, AWEA reported today. For the first time, U.S. wind farm capacity fell second to China’s; China now has 41,800 MW in operation, an increase of 62% in capacity over a year ago, according to a Jan. 13 report from the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.
With uncertainty over national policies still holding back the U.S. industry, state targets for renewable energy continue to drive wind installations in many areas of the country. "We’ll continue to work for a strong federal energy policy that drives the deployment of renewable energy technologies in the 112th Congress," Bode said, "but we’ll also be defending and improving on state renewable targets, as well as promoting other sources of demand – such as more distributed and community wind projects, and corporate purchasing under the new WindMade trustmark."
The top five states for cumulative wind energy capacity at the close of 2010 all have such state targets:
Texas 10,085 MW; Iowa 3,675 MW; California 3,177 MW; Minnesota 2,192 MW; Washington 2,105 MW.
Texas, the leading wind power state in America for several years running, achieved a major milestone by surging past the 10,000-megawatt mark for total installations, a quarter of all wind capacity in the U.S., with the addition of 680 MW in 2010. Known as the hub of the oil-and-gas industry, Texas achieved the mark thanks to aggressive pursuit of renewable energy and a renewable electricity standard passed in 1999 and strengthened in 2005. On average, wind now generates 7.8% of the electricity in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) which covers most of the state, peaking as high as 25%.
Other states active in pursuing targets for renewable energy last year were Illinois (498 MW added), California (455 MW), South Dakota (396), and Minnesota (396 MW). Five more states, which generally began tapping their inexhaustible wind resources more recently than the leaders, showed growth rates above 100%. The list starts with Delaware and Maryland, which added their first utility-scale wind turbines in 2010:
Delaware & Maryland
First utility-scale installation
South Dakota +126%
With the addition of Delaware and Maryland, 38 states now have utility-scale wind farm projects, and 14 of those have now installed more than 1,000 MW of wind power.