So, it looks like the Energy Department is on to something after all. Despite some doubts about the market for small-scale and distributed wind energy, the agency has been quietly pushing R&D along for high-efficiency micro wind turbines, and whaddaya know, the market is ready and eager to pounce. The American Wind Energy Association has just come out with a new report showing a “steady increase” in the number of US businesses investing in wind energy, either on site or through power purchase agreements with utilities.
The trend is quite pronounced, with more than 23% of wind power contracts in 2014 going to a group that we’ll call “not-utilities.” That includes government and academic institutions as well as businesses.
US Business Hearts US Wind Energy, So There
Before we dive into the details of the new US Wind Industry Annual Market Report, let’s take a quick look at how the growing interest in distributed wind energy dovetails with the recent actions of a US business lobbying organization that has a history of pushing back against climate legislation.
This organization — okay, so ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), could be feeling the hurt as a growing number of its high-profile corporate affiliates (Google, much?) have bailed out due to its climate policy as well as other policies.
Apparently in response, ALEC has embarked on a campaign to deny that its policy amounts to climate change denial.
We’re not going to describe the policy as climate change denial in this post, because we don’t want to get one of those nasty cease-and-desist letters that ALEC has been dropping in the mail.
However, we have taken note that partly through the Koch brothers (who have been generous donors to ALEC), ALEC has its fingerprints all over a number of East Coast states that have been dragging their heels on the Obama Administration’s Atlantic offshore wind energy initiative.
For the record, let’s just say when a business get hands-on experience with the benefits of renewable energy, it will probably be all the less likely to throw its lobbying dollars on an organization that does not support strong renewable energy policies.
Benefits Of Wind Energy
Where were we? Oh, right, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) report. Actually, the full report is not coming out until April 15, but in the meantime, AWEA is so excited that it could not resist teasing some juicy stats in a press release a few days ago.
Here’s the money quote from CEO Tom Kiernan:
Successful brands and businesses increasingly see low-cost wind power as a great value. We’re seeing an expanding market for corporate purchasers that value wind both because it is clean and offers stable electricity prices.
Well said, Tom.
AWEA lists Amazon, Dow Chemical, and Yahoo! among the major US corporations that have engaged in their first-ever power purchase agreements (PPAs) for wind energy. Other first-time entities include Cornell University and the US General Services Administration.
In all, that adds up to 1,770 megawatts of wind PPAs (for those of you new to the topic, wind and solar PPAs enable you to get turbines or solar panels on your property without any up-front costs — you pay it off through your electricity bill, typically at a lower rate than the conventional grid mix).
PPAs offer a virtually brainless way for individual businesses to invest in wind energy. Here are some variations on the theme noted by AWEA:
IKEA purchased a 98-MW Illinois wind farm and a 165-MW Texas wind farm.
Facebook and Google signed contracts directly with the utility MidAmerican Energy [note from Tina: yep, these guys] for up to 547 MW of Iowa wind-sourced energy.
Mars signed a long-term agreement for the renewable energy certificates from a 200-MW Texas wind project that is currently under construction.
Don’t Forget Micro Wind Turbines!
AWEA also takes note that an Anheuser-Busch brewery in California is equipped with a pair of wind turbines on site, and that brings us back around to the Energy Department’s support for micro wind turbines, variously defined as having 5-250kW of capacity.
In the past we’ve heard some rumblings that micro wind isn’t cost effective, but for whatever reason, the market for small-scale wind energy just keeps on growing.
That makes sense when you consider some of the side benefits of having wind turbines on your property. Major US sports venues, for example, appear to be using micro wind turbines as a high-visibility way to burnish their green cred — that’s high as in thousands of attendees and millions of TV viewers every year.
Another approach is illustrated by Ford’s new sail-type micro wind turbines at selected dealerships, which doubles as eye-attracting kinetic signage.
Also notable is the Eiffel Tower’s new green makeover. It includes custom-painted micro wind turbines, which we think is a really clever way to update the iconic structure’s steampunk roots while sending a sustainability message that resonates through its host country.
We could go on.
Image Credit (screenshot): Interactive map courtesy of AWEA.