For now, industry hangs its hopes on Texas — AWEA report

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wind power installation rates aren’t what they used to be. But that could change within the next two years, asserts the leading wind energy industry group, largely thanks to a surge of construction activity in Texas.

The first quarter of 2014 saw 214 megawatts of wind energy built, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s “U.S. Wind Industry First Quarter 2014 Market Report,”¬†released¬†yesterday.This is a drop from the 1,016 MW installed in the fourth quarter of 2013 and pales in comparison to the record 8,385 MW completed at the close of 2012 as wind developers hurried to qualify for the 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) before it expired.

But as in its recently released annual report, AWEA highlighted the huge number of wind energy projects in the pipeline, a surge once again spurred by a last-minute extension of the PTC in January 2013. At present, the industry group anticipates the completion of a record 13,000 MW of wind developments in 21 states.

According to Emily Williams, AWEA’s manager of industry data and analysis, these projects are expected to come online later this year and in 2015. “We won’t quite have the same peak as we did in 2012,” Williams said.

This is because the January 2013 extension of the PTC was more flexible, Williams explained, meaning that developers only had to begin construction to qualify for the credit by the 2014 deadline, rather than be fully installed and grid-connected.

The upcoming growth in installations is largely concentrated in Texas, where the report states that developers are planning to install more than 8,000 MW of wind energy.

For some, buyers come later

Texas’ wind boom is attributed to the completion of its $6.8 billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zone project this year, a series of new transmission lines designed to connect wind energy developments in rural areas to the state’s major population centers (ClimateWire, Feb. 25).

In AWEA’s first-quarter report, many of the Texas project developers are not yet listed as having power purchasers. Williams said this is partially due to the fact that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, does not fall under the same Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reporting requirements as other states, so AWEA may not be aware of some power purchase agreements.

Also, “Texas does tend to be a very heavy merchant market, so projects are often sold without long-term power purchase agreements,” Williams added, meaning that these projects will sell electricity at variable rates tied to other energy sources like natural gas rather than at set prices determined by PPAs.

Michael Goggin, a senior electric industry analyst for AWEA, said it is possible that some of the planned projects in Texas may not be completed if they don’t secure power buyers. However, he added, most developers have already spent at least 5 percent of the total project cost to qualify for the PTC.

“Many of these projects have a pretty large amount of skin in the game at this point,” Goggin said. “Some of them may not get developed, but I think we expect a large share of them will.”

The report was released ahead of AWEA’s annual conference, to be held next week in Las Vegas.