With attendance over ten percent higher than last year, 7,200 left the U.S. wind energy industry’s annual conference in New Orleans yesterday excited about what’s next for the industry as it prepares to grow to supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020.
As American wind power has grown rapidly in recent years, so have the benefits for American consumers and the environment. Consumers in the 10 states with the most renewable energy pay less on their electricity bills than the 10 states with the least amount of renewables. Wind energy is the cleanest source of utility-scale electricity production and carries a legacy of care for the environment and wildlife. These benefits will only grow as the U.S. taps more into this homegrown source of electricity.
“Our entire industry is energized,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “I’ve heard all week from our investors, developers, suppliers, and manufacturers; they’re ready to add another chapter to this American success story by continuing to innovate and cut costs. AWEA is ready to equip the industry with whatever it needs to keep our momentum going.”
Strengthening America’s transmission infrastructure is a key element to maintaining wind power’s momentum. Building long-distance power lines from areas with rich wind resources to places where the most people live makes for a better, more resilient grid and lower power bills. AWEA recognized three leading transmission advocates during the conference for their work pushing for progress in this critical area.
By continuing to advance wind turbine technology, wind power’s costs have dropped two-thirds in just six years and after installing more new generating capacity than other energy source last year, with enough wind power installed to supply electricity for 20 million American homes. Industry leaders recognized the need to continue cutting costs in order to continue rapidly growing.
A 2016 Gallup poll found 73 percent of Americans say U.S. should “emphasize development of alternative energy such as wind and solar power,” and another poll found a majority of Republicans increasingly favor transitioning to a clean energy economy.
AWEA’s annual WINDPOWER Conference and Exhibition is the Western Hemisphere’s largest wind power trade show all year and brings together thousands of wind power developers, manufacturers, workers, executives, and other stakeholders, to make deals, educate, and network. As WINDPOWER 2016 wrapped up in New Orleans, conference organizers were already starting to plan for WINDPOWER 2017 in Anaheim, California, May 22 – 25, 2017.
“After listening to our attendees, we unveiled big changes this year, with everything from the exhibitors to presenters to student competitions all taking place on the show floor,” said Jana Adams, Senior Vice President of Membership Value and Experience. “As a result, we saw more attendees, more exhibitors, and more presenters. And you can be sure at WINDPOWER 2017 in Anaheim there will be even more enhancements to come!”
Emerging as a new market driver for wind power’s growth are a growing group of corporate buyers of wind power, including big-named brands like General Motors and Walmart, as well as cities and universities. Of the wind power capacity contracted through power purchase agreements (PPA) in 2015, 52 percent, or 2,074 megawatts (MW), were signed by these types of buyers. Representatives from GM and Walmart discussed the current and likely future state of this trend during one of the dozens of panels held this week at the conference.
“When looking at wind deals, cost savings are one attribute I can bring up when I talk to our finance and accounting department,” said Rob Threlkeld, Global Manager, Renewable Energy, for GM. “Have you ever seen your electric bill go down for multiple years at a time? They say they’ve seen months, but never years.”
The theme of this year’s conference, ‘Generation Wind,’ helped promote several ongoing efforts to help prepare the next generation of leaders for the rapidly growing U.S. industry. After several activities kicked off, including the National KidWind Challenge, the Collegiate Wind Competition, and participants arrived as part of the Emerging Leaders Program, the Women of Wind Energy (WoWE) held its annual luncheon during the conference to promote the next generation of women leaders in wind energy.
“WINDPOWER has inspired all of our members once again,” said Kristen Graf, Executive Director of WoWE. “Our 11th annual networking and awards luncheon was attended by nearly 400 men and women, showcasing the amazing women working in renewables and support women just starting through our Rudd Mayer and Wind at Our Backs scholarships. This year was no exception and with the larger conference and new show layout we were able to reach a wider audience and connect with new people interested in supporting the WoWE mission of a strong diversified renewable energy workforce.”
As the U.S. wind energy industry grows, event organizers plan to continue to adapt to the needs of attendees. A 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Energy says wind energy could grow to supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020, 20 percent by 2030 and become one of the leading sources of electricity by supplying 35 percent by 2050. That could result in wind power supporting 380,000 jobs by 2030 and 600,000 jobs by 2050.
Building the Grid: Excellence in Transmission Advocacy
AWEA honored three people for contributions to the industry, enabling thousands of megawatts of wind to connect to the grid, including:
- Steve Gaw, Wind Coalition SPP Policy Director
- Beth Soholt, Executive Director, Wind on the Wires
- Mike Sloan, Virtus Energy, former executive director of the Wind Coalition
Gaw (left), Soholt (middle), and Sloan
In the nation’s windiest territory where wind development is sometimes limited by the inability to get power to market, policy solutions drove transmission development. The wind industry’s growth today and in recent years would not have happened without the $17 billion invested in new transmission to windy locations in ERCOT, SPP and MISO, with far greater consumer savings (at a minimum, 2.6 to 3.9 times more than costs) resulting from those investments.
Transmission fosters a number of additional benefits along with promoting the growth of renewable energy. New transmission infrastructure creates a stronger, more flexible and cleaner grid, enabling markets which work more cost-effectively and investments which create jobs and economic development opportunities around the country.
Access to transmission is critical to increased use of wind in order to meet the Wind Energy Agenda goal. The ability to install this amount of wind has enabled higher economies of scale and more improvements within the industry, as well as new wealth to windy communities. The industry’s growth exceeded the 20 percent Wind Vision’s installation timeline that was once labeled “ambitious”.
Many companies, allies and state officials can take credit for turning concepts to policies and then to steel and wire, but three individuals were on point for the industry.
“What’s special about these folks is they are people who bring tenacity, willingness to work through arcane details of pulls these projects together,” said Michael Skelly, AWEA Transmission Committee Chair who presented the awards. “They’ve shown it’s also their ability to marshal a whole host of allies, from economic developers, to environmental groups, to grid operators, state elected leaders and industry, to forge a shared understanding of the benefits of the projects that we’ve seen over the last decade.”
Mike Sloan, of Virtus Energy and the Wind Coalition, was awarded for work on the ERCOT Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ). The CREZ lines were planned to connect areas with optimal conditions for the economic development of wind power to relieve congestion and allow more than 18 GW wind in the Texas Panhandle and West Texas, with no fundamental cost allocation change.
Steve Gaw, of the Wind Coalition, was awarded for work on SPP Highway-Byway Cost Allocation on Priority Projects: cost allocation policy change which made the Priority Projects and Balanced Portfolio projects possible, which have already integrated more than 3 GW of incremental wind, plus an additional 3.5 GW expected over the next five years.
According to a 2016 report from SPP, the transmission upgrades it installed between 2012 and 2014 alone:
- Create nearly $12 billion in net present value benefits for consumers over the next 40 years, or around $800 for each person currently served by SPP or $2,400 per each metered customer.
- Yield savings that are 3.5 times greater than the cost of the transmission upgrades.
- Provide benefits that are higher than SPP planning models had estimated.
Beth Soholt, Executive Director for Wind on the Wires, was recognized for her work on MISO Multi Value Projects: the development of a comprehensive expansion plan that meets reliability needs, policy needs, and economic needs, allowing additional 14 GW wind
In 2014 the MidContinent Independent System Operator (MISO) released analysis showing transmission upgrades that are currently underway are expected to:
- Provide $13-50 billion in net benefits over the next 20 to 40 years, between $275 and $1,000 for each person currently served by MISO.
- Yield benefits 2.6 to 3.9 times greater than their cost, an increase from the 1.8 to 3.0 benefit-to-cost ratio that had been calculated initially.