Wind power has rapidly become a significant source of electricity in the U.S., doubling its share of generation in just five years, to 4.9 percent in 2015. The extremely low cost of wind power, along with cheap natural gas, has put tremendous financial pressure on both coal-fired and nuclear power plants, and is significantly affecting the mix of fuels used for generation at regional and state levels.
That trend is set to continue, with wind capacity growing 50 percent in the next few years, according to an analysis of electric power projects that are under construction or in advanced development. The data, maintained by SNL/S&P Global, shows that more than 11 gigawatts are currently under construction, with another 26 gigawatts well along in the development process. Installed wind power capacity was about 75 gigawatts in mid-2016, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
SNL/S&P Global defines “advanced development” as projects reaching at least two of five thresholds: necessary permits obtained; financing obtained; power-purchase agreement signed; an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor signed; and turbines secured. Projects “under construction” have moved beyond site preparation and broken ground.
The development of wind has been highly regional. Nearly two-thirds of the current U.S. capacity is in the Great Plains corridor, stretching from North Dakota to Texas and from Wyoming to Iowa. Texas alone, with 18 gigawatts, accounts for nearly a quarter of the total.
The data suggests this regional dominance will continue, especially in the near term: Just six of those states have over 8 gigawatts already under construction. That includes one of the country’s largest wind developments ever, approved by Iowa at the end of August: MidAmerican Energy’s 2 gigawatt, $3.6 billion Wind XI project. Texas will continue to extend its leadership in wind power, adding the 2.6 gigawatts under construction and another 3.1 gigawatts in advanced development.
WHILE THE WIND PROJECTS CURRENTLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION ARE STILL MOSTLY IN THE PLAINS STATES, development is happening across the country: 48 of the 50 states have grid-connected wind power projects either under construction or in advanced development. The exceptions are Alaska and Delaware.
The two other regions that have invested substantially in wind supported wind, the West Coast— Washington, Oregon and California—and a band of north-central industrial states from Illinois to New York, are also set to add significant capacity.
Today, 10 southern states from Louisiana to Florida and north to Virginia have no installed wind capacity, according to the AWEA. That will soon change. In one of the biggest shifts to the wind-generation map, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia may add 6 gigawatts, most of it in advanced development, making them among the leaders in that category.
Other states, too, could see big changes. Wyoming —the nation’s largest producer of coal, and where 90 percent of electricity came from coal last year—could see the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, a gigawatt wind development by Anschutz Corp. that would get built in phases through 2023.
Arizona and Nevada, which also have relatively little wind capacity now, are also likely to see big additions from projects in advanced development.
The data clearly shows that the nation’s investment boom in wind is set to go on for years. The enormous expansion in capacity in the Plains states continues, and is broadening out to include most states, and some areas that have had little or no wind generation, such as the Carolinas, are on the verge of major additions.
By Seth Feaster, IEEFA data analyst