Midwestern states now get a fifth of their power from wind

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Five Midwestern states are now producing more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind energy, helping to boost wind’s share of U.S. grid-delivered power to 5.5 percent, according to a new industry analysis of government data.

The five states — Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota — account for 21.7 gigawatts of wind energy capacity, according to industry data, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Middle America.

But by virtue of having smaller populations, these rural states now claim cleaner power portfolios than many larger, greener states — including California, where renewable energy has long been a government priority, according to an analysis of data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“With 99 percent of wind turbines located in rural areas, wind power’s steady growth as a share of the nation’s electricity supply has been accompanied by a surge of investment in rural America,” estimated at $13.8 billion last year, the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement touting the findings.

The surge in investment also led to a surge in wind power production in places like Oklahoma, where wind’s share of total electricity generation grew from 18.4 percent in 2015 to 25.1 percent in 2016, according to AWEA’s review of Energy Department data.

In Iowa, wind power accounted for 36.6 percent of the state’s generation in 2016, up 5.1 percent from the year before, according to AWEA. Kansas saw wind’s share of in-state electricity generation jump from 24.1 percent to 29.6 percent. South Dakota, while having a smaller base of installed turbines, also saw wind power account for more than 30 percent of the state’s total generation.

According to EIA, turbines operating in 40 states generated a record total of 226 million megawatt-hours of electricity during 2016, approximately four times the amount of power produced by solar panels and approaching what hydroelectric dams generated.

Texas remains the nation’s No. 1 wind power producer overall, with 20.3 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2016. But Texas’ overall share of electricity generated by wind power, at 12.6 percent, remains lower than 10 other states, including the top five performers plus Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota and Vermont.

In a “Today in Energy” brief published yesterday, EIA also noted that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid, which covers most of the state, continues to set records for high levels of wind generation on any U.S. electric system. ERCOT’s most recent record of 16,022 megawatts occurred on Dec. 25, 2016, and accounted for slightly more than 47 percent of the generation mix at the time.

EIA further noted that in the Southwest Power Pool, which extends from north Texas to North Dakota and Montana, wind power recently supplied 52.1 percent of the regional grid’s generation mix for a brief period, reaching 11,419 MW on Feb. 12.

Yet not all of the states producing wind power records see the renewable energy resource as an unequivocal benefit.

Oklahoma, where wind accounts for 25.1 percent of all electricity production, has seen a flurry of legislation designed to slow the pace of wind energy in the state, including the repeal of a state tax credit for wind farm developers and even the imposition of a new 0.5-cent-per-kilowatt-hours tax on wind energy (Climatewire, March 2).

Proponents of the Oklahoma proposals say they would help level the playing field for other forms of energy while helping to fill a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

But wind energy proponents say states like Oklahoma should not throw cold water on one of its fastest-growing economic sectors as part of budget-balancing efforts.

“Wind power is cheap, clean and infinite, and it saves Oklahomans hundreds of dollars annually on their utility bills,” said Brad Raven, a county commissioner for Beaver County in Oklahoma’s panhandle. “When you consider that landowners receive millions in annual royalties from wind projects, you have an energy sector that is literally saving rural Oklahoma.”