Industry grows but policy uncertainty could push wind off another economic cliff
Spurred by a diverse group of supporters, wind energy continues to make great strides in 2015. AWEA’s U.S. Wind Industry Third Quarter 2015 Market Report finds that over 1,600 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity were installed during the third quarter of 2015, increasing the year-to-date total to more than 3,600 MW. The report also highlights near record levels of wind construction and exciting new wind investments from corporate purchasers and American cities. While policy stability is needed to maintain this momentum, 2015 has been a major success for wind energy through the year’s first three quarters.
Wind sees strong growth in 2015
With 3,600 MW installed this year, total wind capacity in the United States is nearing 70 gigawatts (GW). Even better, the pace of installation is increasing. More than twice as many MW have been installed so far as were installed in the first three quarters of 2014. Over 13,250 MW are currently under construction and an additional 4,100 MW are in the advanced stages of development.
As AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan explains, “We are on the cusp of greatness. There are over $20 billion worth of wind farms under construction right now, creating well-paying jobs and spurring economic development in rural communities across the country.”
Wind in new places
North Carolina saw construction commence on its first wind farm this year, meaning commercial-scale wind turbines are now being erected in 40 different states. When finished, North Carolina’s installation will be by far the largest in the Southeast.
New advances in technology have helped to make this possible, leading to a wind rush across the country. Turbines can now access faster, steadier winds at higher altitudes, allowing electricity to be affordably generated in previously uneconomical locations.
“Wind turbine technology has advanced in just a few decades from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla,” Kiernan notes. “Taller towers, longer blades and improved electronics to operate and maintain the turbines are all part of this revolution.”
From boardrooms to big cities, new partners emerge
New customers are one reason for wind’s strong gains this year. The third quarter of 2015 saw PPA announcements with a variety of partners, with non-utility purchasers such as Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, and Washington, D.C. all deciding to procure clean, reliable energy from wind. Microsoft and Wal-Mart both signed PPAs to meet their energy needs from two utility-scale wind projects that were commissioned in the third quarter, while Procter & Gamble recently announced that it would buy 80 percent of the output from a 123-MW wind farm under development in Muenster, Texas.
“At P&G, when it comes to sustainability, actions speak louder than words and this move is a significant milestone in delivering that promise,” said Shailesh Jejurikar, North America Fabric Care President for Procter and Gamble, in making the announcement. “It is incredible that the wind farm will generate enough electricity for all our P&G Fabric and Home Care plants; to put that in context: This is enough electricity to wash a million loads of laundry.”
These projects demonstrate that companies are increasingly realizing they can meet their internal sustainability goals while saving money in the long-run.
Continuing along the path to success
In order to maintain this progress, policy certainty is a necessity. Congress must renew the Production Tax Credit (PTC). When the PTC was allowed to expire at the end of 2012, there were dire consequences for the economy and American workers. Nearly $23 billion were lost from the economy and 30,000 well-paying jobs disappeared. Wind installations dropped 92% the following year.
“Extending the Production Tax Credit and the Investment Tax Credit this year for the longest practical term will help wind power grow our economy and deliver more savings to American homeowners and businesses,” said Kiernan.
American businesses agree. In September, over 2,000 businesses urged Congress to extend a series of tax extenders that included the PTC. Another 580 clean energy companies sent a letter to Congress asking for the same thing. Let’s keep make sure we keep telling this American success story.