Wind power breezes back, led by Iowa and Texas 

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, April 17, 2015

The U.S. wind energy sector stayed on its recovery course in 2014, adding nearly 5,000 megawatts of new emissions-free energy to the nation’s power grid as of Dec. 31. It also broke ground on 12,700 MW of new projects that should be completed over the next two years.

The 2014 figures for new wind energy capacity, released yesterday in Houston by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), represents a 400 percent increase over 2013, when the industry suffered its worst year on record and developers felt the chill of an expiring federal tax credit that had been central to the industry’s previous growth.

The production tax credit (PTC), which provides wind energy developers a rebate of 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for 10 years after a wind farm starts up, received new life from Congress in early 2013, effectively getting the industry back on its feet for 24 months before expiring again last December.

The on-again, off-again nature of the tax credit, including the 2012 wind-down, stymied the wind energy sector’s growth for much of 2013. But by last year, wind developers were riding high again, especially in high-resource states like Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma, as well as emerging states such as Michigan, Nebraska and Vermont.

With the addition of last year’s 4,854 MW, the wind energy sector now accounts for 65,877 MW (65.9 gigawatts) of total U.S. grid-delivered electricity, or 6.2 percent of the nation’s total installed capacity.

“These results show that extending the Production Tax Credit for wind power in 2013 was good for business in America,” Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We’ve got a mainstream, made-in-the-USA product that supports jobs in every state and is gaining momentum.

“With a more predictable policy, we can add more jobs and keep this American success story going,” he added.

23,000 new U.S. jobs

In addition to the 2014 surge in megawatts, industry officials also stressed the wind energy sector’s role in helping grow the national economy, with $12 billion in private investment last year and the creation of 23,000 jobs.

U.S. manufacturers of turbines, blades, rotors, towers and other components now employ roughly 20,000 people, while an additional 53,000 jobs are spread across the industry’s project development, construction, operations and maintenance subsectors.

In Iowa, a center for both wind energy production and manufacturing, the sector has attracted $10 billion in cumulative investment and supports 6,000 jobs, according to AWEA. With nearly 5,700 MW of installed capacity, Iowa also receives more of its electricity from wind energy than any other state, at 28.5 percent, followed by South Dakota (25.3 percent) and Kansas (21.7 percent).

In terms of wind power production capacity, Texas remains the nation’s runaway leader, with more than 14,000 MW of wind energy originating in the state, or 21.7 percent of the nation’s total output. Energy generated from Texas wind farms last year accounted for more than 39.4 million megawatt-hours of electricity, more than twice the amount generated by the second-largest wind energy state, Iowa.

While Texas added more than 1,800 MW of wind energy in 2014, it has an additional 7,500 MW under construction, more than all other states combined, according to AWEA figures.

Texas electricity costs drop by almost $1B

Jeffrey Clark, executive director of the Wind Coalition, an Austin, Texas-based industry and advocacy association, said the state’s phenomenal growth in wind energy stems from a combination of factors, including a world-class wind resource and a growing desire by Texas regulators and policymakers to produce more of the state’s electricity using homegrown resources.

Texas ratepayers have also benefited, Clark said, as total electricity costs have declined by more than $950 million annually thanks to the growth of wind energy, as well as investment in transmission corridors that allow wind power to move from production areas in West Texas to load centers in the eastern part of the state.

Steve Irvin, executive vice president of Houston-based EDP Renewables North America, one of the top wind energy developers in Texas and the nation, said, “The strong activity we’re seeing in Texas right now can be traced back to a strong, successful policy — namely the PTC.”

Emily Williams, AWEA’s deputy director of industry data and analysis, agreed, adding that the reinstatement of a multiyear PTC is a key ingredient to maintaining the pace of development and expanding to regions of the country, such as the Southeast, where wind power investment has been low to nonexistent.

“We have utility-scale turbines operating in 39 states today, and if these trends continue and stable policy is in place, we can see wind deployment in even more states,” she said.