Wind industry has banner $25B year

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013

The U.S. wind power sector recorded its strongest annual growth in 2012 despite strong political head winds in Washington, D.C., that threatened to end federal subsidies for the country’s largest renewable energy resource.

The American Wind Energy Association reported Wednesday that developers installed more than 13,000 megawatts of generation capacity over the 12 months that ended in December, leveraging an estimated $25 billion in private-sector investment. Thirteen thousand megawatts is the equivalent of 13 large nuclear power plants.

The growth — concentrated in a dozen states in the Great Plains, Midwest and West Coast — pushed the industry’s total generation capacity to 60,000 MW, or enough to power almost 15 million U.S. homes, according to AWEA. That surge in clean energy will help avoid 95.9 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to 1.8 percent of the entire country’s carbon emissions, the group said.

In the fourth quarter alone, the industry added a record 8,380 MW of generation as it raced against the clock of an expiring federal production tax credit (PTC) providing a 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit to wind energy developers. The PTC was extended for one year under the “fiscal cliff” legislation passed by Congress earlier this month.

Wind power also accounted for the largest share of all new electricity generation constructed in the United States last year, accounting for 42 percent of all new capacity, and was by far the dominant form of renewable energy — outpacing solar, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal technologies.

“It is a real testament to American innovation and hard work that for the first time ever a renewable energy source was No. 1 in new capacity,” AWEA’s interim chief executive, Rob Gramlich, said during a Web-based conference with reporters and industry observers. “We are thrilled to mark this major milestone in the nation’s progress toward a cleaner energy system.”

‘Expansion of new customers’

The industry’s second-highest growth year was 2010, when it installed roughly 10,000 MW of capacity, according to AWEA. Over that time, technological advances and better economies of scale have allowed wind farms to expand from a handful of core production areas to occupy 39 states and Puerto Rico, which last year saw the installation of two wind farms.

The industry also made inroads in the Southeast, where despite lower wind speeds and other obstacles to home-grown renewable energy development, electrons from wind farms are beginning to flow into states and territories that previously had little or no wind energy in their power portfolios

Texas, the nation’s largest wind-power producer, added 1,826 MW of generation capacity in 2012, bumping its total to 12,212 MW. Other states adding 1,000 or more megawatts of capacity last year were California (1,656 MW), Kansas (1,440 MW) and Oklahoma (1,127 MW).

Illinois and Iowa each added more than 800 MW of wind energy, while Oregon, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado rounded out the top 10 states for turbine installations in 2012.

Officials also noted that a growing number of wind farms are being developed with long-term power supply contracts or direct ownership by rate-based utilities. Emily Williams, an AWEA research analyst, said 85 percent of new wind energy projects in 2012 enjoyed such supply assurances. According to the group’s data, 66 electric utilities bought or owned wind power in 2012, up from 42 in 2011.

Another key trend for 2012 was the rise of non-utility buyers of wind energy, among them industrial customers, colleges and universities and municipalities. “What is just as striking as the new records is the expansion of new customers,” Gramlich said.