The energy generated by wind turbines in the United States supplied more than 5.5% of the country’s electricity in 2016, and in Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, supplied more than 20%, according to new figures from the American Wind Energy Association.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), working from data provided by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), highlighted that wind turbines operating in 40 US states generated a record total of 226 million megawatt-hours (MWh) during 2016. This is up 18% over 2015’s figures, but in terms of the percentage of electricity supplied nationwide, represented only a 4.7% increase over 2015.
Maybe the most important aspect of America’s wind energy industry — which, given the size of the country and the lack of over-the-top policy support — is the role that wind is now playing in rural areas of the country. According to the AWEA, 99% of all wind turbines in the US are located in rural areas, and as such have supported a massive surge in investment in rural America. Overall, the US saw $13.8 billion invested into the wind industry for new turbines in 2016, bringing the country’s total operating wind turbine fleet to over 52,000 turbines.
The importance of wind in rural America is further highlighted by the significant level of electricity being supplied to states. Specifically, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota all boasted more than 20% of their electricity sourced from wind energy. Wind’s share of total electricity in Iowa grew from 31.5% to 36.6% in 2016, followed by South Dakota with 30.3%, Kansas with 29.6%, Oklahoma with 25.1%, and North Dakota with 21.5%.
“Wind is now cheaply and reliably supplying more than 20 percent of the electricity in five states and is a testament to American leadership and innovation,” said Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO. “For these states, and across America, wind is welcome because it means jobs, investment, and a better tomorrow for rural communities.”
Considering that there are a number of European countries boasting significantly higher levels of wind energy and wind electricity sourced, Tom Kiernan might be lapsing a little too far into hyperbole — especially when you consider America has only recently developed any offshore wind energy at all. This is not to dispute the facts and figures above, but just to put America’s wind “leadership and innovation” into its proper place, worldwide.
Nevertheless, the levels of investment for wind energy has reaped significant benefits, with the AWEA claiming wind energy investments are helping to pay for roads, teacher salaries, and emergency services.
“Wind power is cheap, clean and infinite, and it saves Oklahomans hundreds of dollars annually on their utility bills,” added Brad Raven, District One Commissioner for Beaver County Oklahoma. “When you consider that landowners receive millions in annual royalties from wind projects, you have an energy sector that is literally saving rural Oklahoma.”
What will be fun to watch is the next stages of America’s wind energy industry — hopefully unhindered by Donald Trump’s administration. Earlier this year, a new wind energy penetration record was set by grid manager Southwest Power Pool in the central United States, with 52.1% of the region’s electricity needs being served by wind power for a period of time on February 12. This suggests that the potential of wind energy is only just being reached, and leaves the way open for significant future developments.
“Ten years ago we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” said Bruce Rew, Southwest Power Pool’s vice president of operations. “Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent. It’s not even our ceiling.”