American wind power is as strong as it has ever been through the first half of 2016, with a near-record level of projects under construction or in the advanced stages of development.
Just today, Alliant Energy announced plans to expand its Whispering Willow wind farm in Iowa, investing $1 billion to add another 500 megawatts (MW) of capacity. When combined with Whispering Willow’s 200 MW of existing capacity, for a total of 700 MW, Alliant’s project could crack the list of the 10 largest wind farms in the U.S.
“Our customers expect low-cost, clean energy, which is exactly what this project will bring to the communities we serve,” said Doug Kopp, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa utility. “Wind has no fuel costs and zero emissions, making it a win-win for Iowans and the Iowa economy.”
As many experts predicted following December’s five-year extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), the now-stable business environment has spurred activity throughout the U.S. The wind industry is creating cleaner air, well-paying jobs and affordable electricity along the way.
Large scale projects bring large scale benefits
With great stability comes great activity.
2016’s most significant development to date has been the rise of large-scale utility-owned projects. Utilities across the country are looking to take advantage of the full-value PTC before it begins phasing down. The resulting projects are larger than ever.
Alliant’s is not the only big announcement to come out of Iowa in recent months. This past spring, MidAmerican Energy announced plans to construct a wind farm up to 2,000 MW in size in the state, while Xcel Energy will be investing in a 600 MW project in Colorado.
This quarter alone, utilities contracted 81 percent of the 1,800 MW of new power purchase agreements announced.
Enel Green Power’s 400 MW Cimarron Bend wind farm, currently being built in Kansas, represents both of the largest trends from the past 18 months: half of the project’s electricity will be bought by the Kansas Board of Public Utilities, while Google Energy is purchasing the other half.
Cimarron Bend is more evidence that both traditional utility buyers and emerging corporate buyers want wind to power more of their operations.
Low costs create high demand
One of the reasons they’re choosing wind power is because in many parts of the country, it’s now the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity, and it’s becoming cost-competitive in many more. The market-based PTC has been the driving force behind much of this success, sparking American innovation and improved domestic manufacturing that have cut wind’s costs by two-thirds over the last six years as it scales up.
Today, wind turbines can access stronger, steadier winds at higher altitudes, making projects economically possible in new places. For example, later this year, North Carolina will become the 41st state with a utility-scale wind farm, while off the cost of Rhode Island, the country’s first offshore wind farm will begin generating electricity. These projects are possible because of technology that simply wasn’t available just a few years ago.
Voters want wind power
Utilities and Fortune 500 companies aren’t the only ones excited: 91 percent of likely voters want to continue growing wind energy, according to a recent poll from Wall Street investment firm Lazard, Inc.
This is true bipartisan support, with 81 percent of self-described conservatives saying they want wind energy expanded – up a remarkable 34 points since Lazard’s poll before the last presidential election.
Gallup found nearly 75 percent of adults want the U.S. government to “emphasize the development of alternative energy such as wind and solar power.”
Reasons wind energy is so popular include its low costs, pollution-free electricity, and the 88,000 well-paying jobs it supports, including many in hard-pressed rural communities.
Where new wind projects are arriving
Today, over 12,000 MW of new wind farms are under construction and an additional 5,800 MW are in the advanced stages of development. This keeps the U.S. on track to double wind energy to 10 percent of the grid by 2020, and double again to 20 percent by 2030. As the map shows, this growth is happening across the U.S. and has earned its bipartisan support.
To keep wind power growing
Challenges do remain, and transmission tops the list. To fully realize America’s wind power potential, we need new and upgraded lines to carry wind-generated electricity from the windiest parts of the country to population centers where demand is highest.
We can build this critical infrastructure cost-effectively. Improved transmission could save American families and businesses up to $47 billion on their electric bills, according to analysis from the Brattle Group.
Likewise, reports from the Southwest Power Pool and the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operators, two of the largest grid operators in the country, found grid improvements could save each of their customers hundreds of dollars, thereby paying for themselves many times over.
So far 2016 looks like another positive chapter in this American success story. With an increasingly cost-competitive product and broad support among buyers and the public, the industry has the momentum to keep creating a better, cleaner tomorrow.