Despite uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the U.S. wind industry experienced a strong start to the year, with the first three months of 2020 seeing record construction and power purchasing activity.
Washington, D.C. – The US wind industry installed over 1,800 megawatts (MW) of new wind power capacity in the first quarter, while the volume of projects under construction set a new record, according to the newly released Wind Powers America First Quarter Report 2020. The American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) report reveals that U.S. project developers installed more than double the amount of wind capacity in the first three months of 2020 than in the first quarter of 2019. Developers also started construction on 4,124 MW of wind power, bringing total construction activity to 24,690 MW.
“America’s largest source of renewable electricity is poised to build on its 50-state footprint of job creation and economic development and to continue bringing reliable, clean, and affordable electricity to communities across the country,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “While we continue working to mitigate the challenges of COVID-19, the wind industry is committed to investing in the U.S. economy and keeping the lights on for millions of Americans.”
Eleven new wind projects totaling 1,821 MW became operational during the first quarter, enough to power 560,000 American homes and more than double the installations from the first quarter of last year. Texas led the country with 540 MW of new wind projects installed, followed by Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota. There are now 107,443 MW of operating wind power capacity in the United States, with nearly 60,000 wind turbines operating in 41 states and two U.S. territories.
Construction activity reached a new record in the first quarter of 2020, with 24,690 MW under construction across the country. That marks an 11 percent increase from the previous quarter. An additional 19,751 MW are in advanced development, including 8,296 MW of offshore wind. The near-term project pipeline now totals 44,441 MW, a 14 percent increase from one year ago. Federal waters now host 8,275 MW of the pipeline, followed by Texas with 7,060 MW, Wyoming with 4,599 MW, and Oklahoma at 3,485 MW.
The significant wind energy pipeline is poised to meet increasing U.S. demand for low-cost, reliable energy. In the first quarter of 2020, developers and corporate buyers announced their highest ever quarterly volume of new power purchase agreements (PPAs), at 2,859 MW. Utilities announced 1,719 MW of PPAs, led by Evergy and AEP Energy. Eversource Energy, National Grid, and Unitil also signed PPAs for a combined 804 MW of offshore capacity. Corporate customers announced 430 MW of wind PPAs in the first quarter, including the first ever wind purchases from Saint Gobain and Toyota Motors.
In the first quarter, U.S. wind experienced a notable advance in turbine technology, where innovations continue to lower costs and to enhance performance. The first quarter saw the first 4 MW turbines in the US start operations, with Vestas V150-4.2 machines installed at the Arbor Hill project in Iowa and the Timber Road IV project in Ohio. Looking forward, more than 4,800 MW of wind projects in development are planning to use 4 MW or larger turbines.
The first three months of the year included some notable advances for offshore wind as well. Virginia passed a law to develop 5,200 MW of offshore wind by 2034. Meanwhile, Massachusetts utilities signed contracts for the 804 MW Mayflower Wind project and Maryland opened its second round of offshore wind applications, highlighting the continued demand for America’s world-class offshore wind resources.
Progress during the first quarter builds on the growth experienced by the industry last year. Earlier this month, AWEA released its Wind Powers America Annual Report 2019, which revealed that U.S. wind energy supports a record 120,000 American jobs, 530 domestic factories, and $1.6 billion a year in revenue for states and communities that host wind farms. In addition, wind energy is now the largest provider of renewable energy in the country, supplying over 7 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2019, enough to power 32 million American homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing significant challenges to the U.S. wind industry, which remains focused on protecting local communities, supporting healthcare and other front-line workers, and ensuring the safety of the wind workforce. According to AWEA analysis, COVID-19 is putting an estimated 25 GW of planned wind projects at risk, representing $35 billion in investment. This includes the potential loss of over $8 billion to rural communities in the form of state and local tax payments and land-lease payments to private landowners, as well as the loss of over 35,000 jobs, including wind turbine technicians, construction workers, and factory workers. The industry will continue working with Congress and other renewable energy leaders to address the challenges of COVID-19 and to ensure projects have the flexibility to continue development.