US Wind Energy Walks All Over Trump’s Coal Talk (#CleanTechnica Interview)

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For all of President* Trump’s coal-friendly rhetoric, the vast renewable energy resources of the US are ripe for the picking, and global energy companies are shaking the tree. A case in point is Italy’s Enel, which is capping its 2018 activities with some interesting news about its US ventures — including more wind energy for the coal-producing state of Illinois.

Enel Speaks

CleanTechnica reached out to Enel a while back get some insights on the potential for growth in US renewables under the Trump administration. On December 14 we exchanged the following emails (breaks added for readability):

CleanTechnica: Without getting into any of the political weeds, our readers would be interested in some insights about how Enel is growing its US business without support from the federal government.

We’ve been running a number of stories about the demand for clean power by US business leaders and it would be helpful to get some perspective from Enel.

Georgios Papadimitriou, Head of Enel Green Power in North America: Support for sustainable energy has never been stronger, and demand is largely being driven by businesses looking for long term, cost-competitive energy solutions.

We’ve seen an increased appetite for renewable energy across the market from corporations and utilities because of their shared commitment to sustainability and the price competitiveness of renewables.

The majority of our growth in North America continues to be with commercial and industrial customers who tend to be intense energy users, including a growing number of customers who traditionally had a less intense energy profile.

Yet with renewable energy we are able to provide customized solutions to these mid-tier businesses who would otherwise have little choice in how their energy is produced.

Building Wind Farms Hand Over Fist

The missive from Enel continues with a recap of the company’s wind energy activity in the US. Of particular note is the interest of major US companies pushing clean power development (breaks and emphasis added):

Mr. Papadimitriou: Today [December 14] we announced that operations have begun at our 185 MW Hilltopper wind farm, our first wind farm in Illinois.

HillTopper is supported by three long-term power purchase agreements which provide wind power to Bloomberg LP and General Motors, as well as Constellation, who will sell the energy to Comcast Spectacor and Starbucks under two separate agreements.

By the end of the year, we will be bringing an additional 620 MW of wind power online when we begin operations at our Rattlesnake Creek wind farm in Nebraska and our Diamond Vista wind farm in Kansas. A portion of the Rattlesnake Creek power will be sold to Facebook and Adobe, and a portion of the Diamond Vista power will be sold to Kohler.

According to BNEF, 7,128 MW of Corporate PPAs were signed in the US in 2018 (as of Dec. 6). This beats the previous record set in 2015 with 3,790 MW.

With major organizations focused on “going green,” and fulfilling their sustainability commitments through renewable energy purchasing, in 2019, we expect even more corporations to shift to renewable energy sources.

Illinois And The Coal Whack-A-Mole

Got all that? The Hilltopper wind farm in Illinois is an especially interesting development because it demonstrates how renewable energy is making inroads even in states where the fossil stakes run deep. Illinois happens to be one of the leading coal-producing states in the US.

I know, right? Who knew!?

Illinois usually doesn’t get much media attention for its coal economy. That’s typically reserved for communities in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and other Appalachian states, which Trump made much of during his 2016 run for the White House.

Nevertheless, Illinois is a fossil fuel powerhouse. Here’s the rundown from the US Energy Information Agency from last spring:

Illinois has one-fifth of the nation’s economically-recoverable coal reserves, second only to Montana, and is the nation’s third-largest bituminous coal producer after West Virginia and Pennsylvania…Illinois coal reserves account for almost one-tenth of the nation’s total recoverable coal reserves at producing mines.

And, here’s where it gets interesting:

Almost one of every seven tons of coal mined in Illinois was exported to other countries in 2016.

Illinois also exports coal to other US states for power generation, though it generally has a high sulfur content. That means US utilities must burn it in combination with low-sulfur sources.

All this is by way of saying that new wind farms in Illinois will not necessarily put the state’s coal mines out of business, at least not directly. For that matter, Illinois already has significant excess generating capacity, which it sells to other states through MISO and the PJM interconnection grids.

On the other hand, coal’s share of power generation in Illinois has been shrinking alongside the rise of natural gas as well as wind energy. The American Wind Energy Association currently ranks the state an impressive 7th in installed capacity for wind energy, even though it lacks optimal wind speeds.

Electric vehicle charging initiatives in Illinois could also help bump up interest in renewable energy development within the state’s borders.

The Illinois energy landscape also includes a healthy dose of nuclear energy, so if you have any thoughts about that drop us a note in the comment thread.

Speaking of EV charging, other news of note from Enel includes the new Enel X “Juice” EV charging platform.

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*Developing story.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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