America’s solar market boom has outshined other renewables in recent news, but the latest wind industry update is a reminder new turbines can save money and boost economies across the country – despite doldrums caused by federal policy inaction.
835 megawatts (MW) of new wind energy capacity was installed across the United States during the first half (1H) of 2014 with 619MW coming online in the second quarter (2Q), according to the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) U.S. Wind Industry Second Quarter 2014 Market Report.
This growth is more than the industry installed during the first three quarters of 2013 and boosts total installed U.S. wind capacity to 46,300 turbines and nearly 62 gigawatts (GW), with even more on the horizon – another 106 projects representing up to 14,600MW of additional capacity are currently underway in 21 states across the country.
It’s no surprise that Texas not only led all states in wind growth with 400MW of new capacity additions, but also leads in ongoing construction with roughly 8GW of new wind turbines. The Lone Star state has long been America’s wind energy leader with 12,753MW total installed capacity, and a new transmission system upgrade is bringing wind power from West Texas to high-demand eastern cities, boosting the cost-competitiveness of clean energy.
But Texas isn’t the only state where wind energy is filling the sails of green economies. Nebraska installed 201MW and Michigan built 136MW across 1H 2014. Meanwhile, Iowa has over 1GW under construction, Oklahoma is building over 970MW, 870MW are underway in Kansas, and 780MW are in process across North Dakota.
Much of this growth is on the strength of long-term utility and corporate contracts. AWEA notes over 1,400MW of new wind power purchase agreements (PPAs) were announced so far in 2014, adding to the 8GW of PPAs signed in 2013.
In fact, 12 of America’s leading corporations recently urged energy suppliers to offer more renewable electricity and increase their ability to buy clean power, thanks to technology advances lowering wind energy costs. “Today’s great values on clean, low-cost wind power are encouraging utilities and major companies to sign more and more contracts for it,” said Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO.
Clean Energy Yes, But Also An Economic Boost
And the net result of all this wind industry activity has been an important one – more jobs and more local economic growth. Hiring has increased across 43 states with a stake in the wind industry’s manufacturing supply chain, and 71% of all U.S. Congressional districts have either a wind-related manufacturing facility, operational wind project, or both.
“The economic benefits of all these projects are significant,” said Emily Williams, AWEA’s Manager of Industry Data and Analysis. “They include U.S. manufacturing jobs, with many factories hiring new workers to meet demand and all the local benefits from capital investment of billions of dollars in rural America.”
The Looming Threat Of Congressional Gridlock
AWEA credits the ongoing wind construction boom to rules finalized at the start of 2013 allowing any new project that started construction or invested 5% of capital by the end of 2013 to qualify for PTC tax incentives once it starts generating electricity onto the grid. But what happens after this stretch of good fortune ends?
The IRS is expected to issue further guidance on the PTC, notes AWEA, which could boost PPAs for projects currently under construction – of the 9.4GW new wind projects utilities agreed to contracts with, 3.8GW haven’t yet broken ground. And all this doesn’t even take into account how states can reap economic rewards from wind power as EPA power plant emissions reductions rules take shape.
Ultimately though, it all comes down to a Congress mired in gridlock. While another PTC extension through 2015 is still alive in the U.S. Senate, it faces headwinds due to Republican opposition, which is ironic considering some of the strongest wind power states are also the most politically conservative, with the biggest potential for clean economic growth.
“We can double American wind power by 2020, and double (it) again by 2030 if Congress gets the rules straight…and continues to work on long-term policies that would provide a more predictable business environment.” said Kiernan.