Wind-power consumption rises as nation’s overall energy use drops

Source: By Zack Colman , The Hill • Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wind power posted the greatest gain in domestic energy consumption in 2011 as overall energy use dropped, according to an analysis by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Energy consumption from wind power rose 27 percent in 2011 to 1.17 quadrillion Btu (British thermal units), up from 0.92 in 2010, LLNL said, citing U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Energy consumption from wind could rise in 2012 as well, as newly installed electricity capacity increased 40 percent in the third quarter compared with 2011, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced last week.

“Wind energy jumped significantly because, as in previous years, many new wind farms came online,” A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst, said Wednesday in a statement. “This is the result of sustained investment in wind power.”

But AWEA says investment already is falling off for 2013, with the fate of an industry tax credit hanging in the balance.

Congress has yet to decide whether it will extend a 2.2-cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit for wind power production. The credit is scheduled to end Dec. 31.

A $205 billion Senate tax extenders package would extend it for one year, but senators have yet to vote on the measure.

Democrats, led by the Obama administration, call the incentive a jobs issue, citing industry estimates that ending it would cost 37,000 jobs.

Republicans have so far been reluctant to support the credit. Many call it an example of government picking winners and losers, while others want to hold out for broader changes to the federal tax code.

While wind energy consumption rose, overall energy consumption dropped 7 percent to 97.3 quadrillion Btu, down from 98 quadrillion Btu, LLNL noted. The lab credited that to a shift to more energy-efficient transportation and residential technologies.

“Sustained high oil prices have likely driven the decline in oil use over the past five years as people choose to drive less and purchase automobiles that get more miles per gallon,” Simon said.

Still, Americans consumed more petroleum than any other energy source in 2011, accounting for about 36 percent of the nation’s energy use.

That share could decline with large truck fleets looking to use more natural gas, as prices for that fuel are expected to remain low. And fuel efficiency standards finalized in August require automakers to meet a standard equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration says those standards, combined with earlier ones for 2012-2016, will save 12 billion barrels of oil.

Wind, however, accounted for just over 1 percent of total domestic energy consumption in 2011.

Electricity generation accounted for the largest portion of the nation’s energy use, amounting to 40 percent of the total, LLNL said.

Low natural gas prices helped that energy source cut into coal’s portion of the electricity generation mix and will continue to do so, Smith said. Overall natural-gas consumption rose 1 percent in 2011, while coal dropped about 5 percent.