Wind Power & Hydropower Race To Crush Coal For COVID-19 Recovery

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The Intertubes have been ablaze this spring with news that renewables are enjoying a record-setting run while coal continues to sink. In fact, the combination of wind power and hydropower alone has easily eclipsed coal power, even if you don’t factor in solar. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a particularly significant group of wind and hydro projects that will help keep the momentum going for a green COVID-19 recovery.

wind power renewable energy
US utilities are moving forward with major wind power and hydropower projects during COVID-19 outbreak (photo courtesy of Avangrid).

More Wind Power For Coal Country In 2020

Overall electricity demand has plummeted during the COVID-19 crisis, so all things being equal this shouldn’t be a record-breaking spring for renewables. Well, things are not equal. The cost of renewable energy has dropped, and with natural gas in the mix coal just can’t keep up. The bottom line is that grid managers are now avoiding coal power when they can.

Energy analysts note that seasonal factors are also in play, as spring is the preferred season to give coal units a rest for maintenance. However, the future doesn’t look any brighter.

A case in point is Wyoming, where the coal industry has been thriving for decades. Now policy makers are looking to wind for job creation and new revenue, and they are super excited about the prospects for exporting Wyoming wind power to other states.

In a rundown of the Wyoming’s growing wind industry for the Casper Star-Tribune, reporter Camille Erickson notes that several major projects appear to be on schedule despite the impact of COVID-19.

One major force is the largest utility in the state, Rocky Mountain Power. Back in 2018 there were rumblings of a wind exporter role for Wyoming, and CleanTechnica took a look at the utility’s plans for sending wind energy to Idaho as well as Colorado.

That was just the tip of the wind power iceberg. According to Erickson’s rundown, Rocky Mountain is on track to add 1,150 megawatts of wind before the sun sets on 2020, ramping up its ability to send clean power to multiple states.

That’s peanuts compared to another project Erickson highlights, the 3,000 megawatt  Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in — wait for it — Carbon County.

CleanTechnica first took note of the massive wind project in 2017, along with a related wind transmission line called TransWest that will enable Wyoming to export even more clean power. Apparently both the wind farm and the transmission line are moving forward.

More Wind Power For New Mexico In 2020

A big move is also afoot in New Mexico, where 35,000 acres of state trust land has just been signed over to the company Avangrid for a new 306-megawatt wind farm near Encino. If all goes according to plan, the turbines will be spinning before the end of this year.

New Mexico already has a fairly respectable wind profile at 1,952 megawatts of installed capacity and it looks like there’s plenty more where that came from. According to our friends over at the American Wind Energy Association, another 1,020 megawatts in capacity is already under construction.

The State Lands Office is already anticipating even more. In a press release announcing the new La Joya Wind Farm, Commissioner Garcia Richard noted that “there are hundreds of thousands of acres of state trust land prime for renewable energy generation, and this project…highlights our potential as a state to become a powerhouse for America’s renewable energy future.”

Commissioner Richard is not kidding around. She is also credited with establishing the first ever Office of Renewable Energy at the New Mexico Land Office, where the staff anticipates that they will blow past an initial goal of tripling the amount of renewable energy generated on state trust land.

Hydropower Keeps Chugging Along

Until recently, hydropower was the nation’s single largest source of renewable electricity, and water is still the only large scale, long duration form of energy storage in use today.

Wind power is now vying with hydropower for the #1 slot, which makes sense because it would be difficult if not impossible to find suitable locations for a whole new fleet of new hydropower dams in the US.

However, hydropower fans still have options. Aside from generating more juice from the same water by tweaking existing dams, there’s always Canada.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project being plotted out in the upper reaches of the US northeast. The proposed hydropower transmission line passed a major milestone earlier this week when Maine DEP approved its route from Canada to Maine.

That brings the northeast one step closer to getting up to 1,200 megawatts of clean power from Canada. The new line would terminate in Maine but the grid benefits would ripple out to include Massachusetts.

The line is being built by Central Maine Power, which happens to come under the Avangrid umbrella. Gosh those folks over at Avangrid have been awfully busy lately.

There are still some steps left in the approval process including a statewide referendum this fall, so stay tuned for more on that.

If the the referendum falls flat, there’s always wind power. Maine has yet to fully exploit its wind potential, but state policy makers are already considering a power-to-gas project that would help solve a transmission bottleneck by using wind power to produce green hydrogen.

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Photo: Wind turbine, courtesy of Avangrid.

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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.

Tina Casey has 3234 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey