I know we’re not supposed to choose a favourite — we should love them all equally — but I have always loved wind energy more than the others. It has a majesty and simplicity to it that I find really attractive. So I really enjoy reporting on wind energy milestones.
Such as the latest report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), entitled US Wind Industry Annual Market Report for 2012, which reported that wind energy in the United States had grown 28% since 2011, setting a new installation record of 6,600 wind turbines erected during 2012, leaving the country with a total of 45,100 wind turbines, enough to power 15.2 million homes in a country with nearly 320 million people.
Not bad! It’s the best year yet for the US wind energy industry, topping all energy sources with 42% of all new US electric generating capacity.
“We had an incredibly productive year in 2012,” said Rob Gramlich, Interim CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “It really showed what this industry can do and the impact we can have with a continued national commitment to renewable energy. We’re doing what Americans overwhelmingly say they want: making more clean, renewable energy, and creating good jobs in U.S. factories.”
Q2 Saw the Markings on the Wall
Back in August of last year, Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, spoke at the National Clean Energy Summit in Los Vegas, Nevada, revealing that 1,400 wind turbines had already been installed across the country.
At the time, that meant the US had blown through 50 GW of wind powered electric generating capacity, a figure that the AWEA explained:
- Represents the generating power of 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear power plants
- Avoids emitting as much carbon dioxide as taking 14 million cars off the road
- Conserves 30 billion gallons of water a year compared to thermal electric generation, since wind energy uses virtually no water
Some of the key projects installed during the second quarter of 2012 included:
- Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley wind farm, 30 miles east of Ely, Nevada (151.8 MW)
- Enel Green Power North America’s Rocky Ridge wind farm in Oklahoma (148.8 MW)
- enXco’s Pacific Wind project in Kern County, California (140 MW)
- Utah Associated Municipal Power’s Horse Butte project in Idaho (57.6 MW)
- First Wind’s Kaheawa Wind II wind farm in Hawaii (21 MW)
Wind Tops Electricity Generating CapacityAccording to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Office of Energy’s Energy Infrastructure Update for December 2012 report released earlier this year, a total of 164 wind projects were brought online during 2012, with a total generating capacity of 10,689 MW.
That final figure was close to wholly half of the year’s total installed generating capacity for all forms of generation. It’s nearest rival was natural gas, with 8746 MW brought online that year.
The same report showed that wind energy made up nearly 5% of the total percentage of US electric generating capacity, sixth on the list behind natural gas, coal, nuclear, and water.
Wind Energy Boosting US Economy
Not only was the massive boost in wind energy installations last year a boon for the renewable energy industry, but it also gave a noticeable bump to the US economy. $25 billion in private investment was put towards wind farms, tens of millions of dollars paid to landowners and local communities in lease payments and property taxes for the installation of wind farms, and billions more have been projected as savings for electricity consumers.
The input to the US economy was so significant that economists believe it was a major reason behind the government revising its estimate of fourth-quarter economic growth — from 0.1% to 0.4%.
The push wasn’t included in the Commerce Department’s first two estimates of fourth-quarter gross domestic product because the surge was first documented after the initial GDP estimates were released, said IHS Global Insight chief US economist Nigel Gault.
According to Tim Mullaney, USA Today’s economics correspondent, “the growth was due partly to scrabling by developers to get projects completed before a tax credit expired at the end of the year.”
“Wind-power growth is likely to resume later this year,” Mullaney notes, “because Congress and President Obama extended the credit for only one year as part of the tax law approved in January.”
Notably, however, this year’s extension was a little bit different from previous extensions. Previously, wind projects had to be completed by the expiration date. Now, they simply have to be started by the expiration date (which is currently December 31, 2013).
The wind industry is also providing local jobs. The AWEA report released last Thursday on a webinar for association members and reporters notes that over 550 factories across the US are providing parts and services for the wind energy industry, which totalled an impressive 80,000 American jobs in 2012.
Those jobs were given a vital release on life when Congress extended the production and investment tax credits for the wind energy industry for another year.
Wind Helping Drought Victims
The report also noted that wind power “also helped the disaster-level drought affecting half of the US counties by saving over 35 billion gallons of fresh water”.
Many electricity generating installations require copious amounts of water to operate effectively — whether as cooling or as a generating tool. Moving to wind energy generation helped save 120 gallons of water for the year for every American.
And it avoided 4% of carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector for the year, as well.
Wind Power Purchasing Increases As Well
Stepping sideways for a moment from the fantastic growth of the wind energy industry itself, utilities and institutions buying wind power also continued increasing during 2012.
According to the report, 74 electric utilities bought wind power last year, along with at least 18 major industrial consumers and 11 schools and universities. Such decisions not only allow for diversification of energy portfolios, but will continue to present energy savings for years to come.
AWEA note that at least seven utilities have issued new requests for proposals to purchase over 1,000 MW of wind power so far this year, since the production tax credit for renewable energy was extended.
“AWEA applauds these utilities for maximizing the PTC opportunity to continue bringing low-cost, fixed price wind power to their customers,” said Rob Gramlich.
“From Xcel Energy in Minnesota to OG&E in Arkansas, electric consumers are racking up the savings as a result. The wind energy industry looks forward to our continued partnerships with utilities across the country to lock in the economic development, rate stabilizing and environmental benefits of more wind power.”
Among the utilities hoping to purchase more wind power are:
- Xcel Energy — billed as “the number one wind energy provider in the nation,” Xcel is looking at adding more wind generation in Minnesota and Colorado. “Although Xcel Energy is well ahead of meeting our state’s renewable energy requirements, we are open to adding cost-effective wind projects that could provide long-term value to our customers,” said Judy Poferl, president and CEO, of Xcel Energy’s Northern States Power Company-Minnesota. “The extension of the federal renewable electricity Production Tax Credit may make cost-effective projects available to serve our customers.”
Oklahoma Gas & Electric — who noted in a filing in Arkansas that “from September 2011 through June 2012, fuel costs to Arkansas customers were approximately $1.2 million lower because of the incorporation of Crossroads [wind farm] into OG&E’s generation fleet. OG&E estimates that fuel savings to Arkansas customers from September 2011 through December of 2012 will be in the range of $2.2 million. Total Company production cost savings for the first five years of operation are estimated to be $268 million. Over the expected twenty-five-year life of the asset production cost, the savings are estimated to be $2.3 billion.”
(For more utilities reporting wind power purchases and consumer savings, click here for the AWEA press release, from February.)
The AWEA report released this week also highlighted several grid operators reporting new records for wind generation.
New marks have been set by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), SPP (Southwest Power Pool), MISO (Midwest Independent System Operator), BPA (Bonneville Power Administration), and CA-ISO (California Independent System Operator).
While Xcel Energy’s Colorado system has obtained more than 50 percent of its electricity from wind on multiple occasions.
Here at CleanTechnica, we too have covered several stories of record-breaking wind generation:
- Texas set a new record for the percentage of electricity generated by wind power, a staggering 28 percent of total supply across the state’s main grid system. (This was not long after setting the record at 26 percent of supply in November).
- During December, wind energy surged ahead to set two new integration records – one in Texas, and the other in the Southern Midwest.
A Renewable Future
One does not have to think too hard to imagine how appealing reports like this are to politicians looking for ways by which to sell the benefits of the wind industry. While the most recent extension of the PTC is set to expire at the end of 2013, the growth in the industry and the trickle-down effects of such a healthy industry will be a continually growing incentive to continue the tax credit past the end of this year and beyond.