ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON NYTIMES.COM
The wind industry crossed an important threshold in the United States last year, exceeding the generating capacity of hydroelectric power for the first time, according to the main industry trade group, the American Wind Energy Association.
The nation’s fleet of dams has long stood as the top renewable energy source, but there has been little market interest in building more big hydroelectric generating stations. In the meantime, wind has rapidly expanded — more than tripling in capacity since 2008 — with many more installations on the way.
An Important Asterisk
The comparison here is limited, measuring the maximum amount of power that generating stations are rated to produce — a threshold few, if any, ever meet. According to the Energy Information Administration, conventional hydroelectric generating capacity stood at 78,956 megawatts in 2015, while wind, the industry group says, reached 82,183 megawatts last year, about enough to run 24 million average American homes. (The hydroelectric figure does not include pumped storage, in which water pumped to an elevated reservoir can be released through a turbine to generate electricity when needed.)
But hydroelectric power could still lead in terms of actual production: According to the Energy Information Administration’s most recent annual electric power report, hydroelectric edged out wind in terms of power sent to the grid by roughly 30 percent in 2015, though both forms trailed fossil fuels and nuclear power by wide margins.
The Question of Efficiency
Any power plant’s potential output can be diminished by a number of factors, including market conditions that render its electricity uneconomical, shutdowns to fix or maintain equipment, orders to curtail unneeded production from system operators and fuel shortages. This is particularly the case for renewable energy sources, whose fuel depends on ever-shifting weather patterns to keep clouds from shading the sun, fill rivers with water and make the winds blow.
Among generators that do not primarily rely on fossil fuels, nuclear plants are the most efficient — they ran at 92.3 percent of their capacity in 2015 — followed by hydroelectric at 35.8 percent that year and wind at 32.2 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration. (Those figures reflect the energy actually generated as a percentage of what a plant could have produced at full, continuous operation during the same period.)
Technological advances in wind design, including taller turbines with longer blades that can harvest energy from a greater variety of winds, are leading to increased efficiency. According to the Department of Energy, projects built in 2014, for instance, ran at 41.2 percent of their capacity the next year.
The Role of Incentives
The main fuel driving the robust spread of wind farms across the country — with a dense cluster sweeping up from Texas through the Great Plains — has been a combination of federal tax incentives and state mandates requiring utilities to buy renewable energy as part of their strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to stem climate change.
The federal tax incentive favored by the industry, the production tax credit, was worth 2.3 cents a kilowatt-hour of electricity sent to the grid by projects that began construction in 2015 and 2016, but it is scheduled to phase out by the end of 2019. (In 2015, the average home consumed about 900 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month.) As long as that schedule remains, industry executives say, they should be able to meet their goal of supplying 10 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2020, more than twice the share they accounted for in 2015.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Congress will maintain the tax credit as planned, or that other potential changes to the tax system won’t make the economics of wind less favorable.
A Job Creator
Although the new administration appears far less focused on making carbon dioxide reductions a priority in its energy policy, wind executives say their industry can help reach some of President Trump’s other goals. Those include building new infrastructure — like, say, transmission lines to carry wind power from where it’s made to where it’s needed — and bolstering manufacturing and creating jobs, especially in rural areas.
According to the Department of Energy, the wind industry now employs almost 102,000 workers, up 32 percent from 2015, while the Department of Labor projects wind service technician as the nation’s fastest-growing occupation over the next decade.
ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON THEHILL.COM
This week, hundreds of Americans from across the country are coming to Washington, D.C. for one reason: they want to make sure their elected officials know wind energy is making life better for their families and communities. They want to say loud and clear: Wind works for America.
And there are a lot of reasons why we feel this way.
Some are part of America’s 100,000-strong wind energy workforce, or one of the more than 25,000 U.S. workers at over 500 factories building wind-related parts. Thanks to their work, wind is now the largest source of installed renewable generating capacity in the U.S., and the country’s fourth largest source of electricity overall. Many of these factory positions are in the Rust Belt, where wind is helping to bring back American manufacturing jobs. For example, Ohio leads the U.S. with 62 wind plants, while Pennsylvania,Michigan and Wisconsin have 26 each.
Some of this week’s travelers are the men and women who serve our country. Veterans make up an important part of wind power’s highly skilled workforce, and the U.S. wind industry employs them at a rate 50 percent higher than the average industry. We’re proud to offer good career opportunities to those who have served.
Others coming to speak with their representatives hail from America’s fastest growing job description: wind turbine technician. This occupation is growing by 108 percent in a decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (That’s compared to the second fastest-growing job, occupational therapy assistant, expanding by 42 percent in the same period).
Some don’t work in wind themselves, yet see crucial benefits that wind energy brings to their communities.
Wind is bringing economic development to rural America in nearly unmatched ways, because virtually all wind farms are built in rural areas. And 70 percent are located in counties where the local economy is hurting. So the private investment that wind projects bring into communities tends to go right where it’s needed the most. And that’s a lot of investment– $158 billion in the last 10 years.
For example, the country’s farmers and ranchers are paid $245 million a year for hosting turbines, a figure that’s constantly growing. That’s stable revenue they can count on when commodity prices fluctuate or weather hurts the harvest. Wind has become their drought-proof cash crop. For many families, this income is the difference between losing a multi-generational way of life, and passing on the family tradition.
Entire towns benefit when wind projects are built, not just those who lease their land for turbines. That’s because wind farms significantly expand local tax revenue or make direct payments in county budgets. This offers new resources towns use to fix roads, buy new fire trucks or improve local schools. It helps keep local taxes low.
Wind works in Texas, the nation’s leader, with 25,000 wind jobs just in that state. It works in Iowa and Kansas, where wind supplies over 30 percent of the electricity. Wind works for the Rust Belt, and for states like Oklahoma and Wyoming, which have vast wind export potential if we upgrade transmission infrastructure.
Wind works for Rhode Island, where an entirely new ocean energy resource has now been harnessed.
Wind works for states like New York, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, which have ambitious goals to source 50 percent or more of their electricity from renewable sources.
Wind works for any state where it creates new jobs – which happens to be all of them.
In short, that’s why wind works for America.
Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.
ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON: NAWINDPOWER.COM
Renewable energy dominated new U.S. electrical generation put into service during 2016, according to nonprofit SUN DAY Campaign.
Citing stats from the latest issue of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report, SUN DAY says newly installed capacity from renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind) equaled 16,124 MW – or 61.5% of all new U.S. capacity added in 2016. SUN DAY says that exceeds newly installed capacity from natural gas (8,689 MW), nuclear power (1,270 MW), oil (58 MW) and coal (45 MW) combined.
The nonprofit notes 2016 was the second year in a row in which the majority of new generating capacity came from renewable energy sources. In 2015, renewable sources added 12,400 MW of new generating capacity – or 64.8% of the U.S. total. For comparison, almost half of new capacity (49.6%) came from renewables in 2014.
During 2016, new wind generating capacity grew by 7,865 MW and was nearly matched by new solar generating capacity (7,748 MW), according to SUN DAY’s analysis. There was also 314 MW of new hydropower capacity and 19 MW of new biomass capacity; however, there was no new geothermal steam capacity added in 2016.
The rapid growth of renewables – particularly solar and wind – has resulted in their seizing an ever-growing share of the country’s total generating capacity, the group points out.
Five years ago, renewable sources cumulatively accounted for 14.26% of total available installed generating capacity. Now they provide almost one-fifth (19.17%): hydropower at 8.50%, wind at 6.92%, solar at 2.00%, biomass at 1.42%, and geothermal at 0.33%, according to SUN DAY.
In addition, each of the non-hydro renewables has grown during the past half-decade, and their combined capacity (10.67%) is now greater than that of nuclear power (9.00%) and nearly three times that of oil (3.79%).
By comparison, SUN DAY continues, the shares of the nation’s energy capacity provided by oil, nuclear power and coal have all declined. Today, oil’s share is only 3.79%, nuclear power is 9.00% and coal is 24.65%; five years ago, they were 4.61%, 9.44% and 29.91%, respectively. The nonprofit says only natural gas has experienced modest growth: from 41.60% in 2011 to 43.23% today.
According to SUN DAY, the greatest percentage increase of any energy source has been experienced by solar, whose share of the nation’s generating capacity (2.00%) is now nearly 12 times greater than it was in December 2011 (0.17%). Moreover, its growth is accelerating: New solar capacity in 2016 (7,748 MW) more than doubled that added in 2015 (3,521 MW). It now exceeds that of biomass and geothermal combined, the group concludes.
PUBLISHED BY: GRIST.COM
The industry is growing so fast it could become the largest source of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic.
In America, wind power won the top spot for installed generating capacity (putting it ahead of hydroelectric power), according to a new industry report. And in the E.U., wind capacity grew by 8 percent last year, surpassing coal. That puts wind second only to natural gas across the pond.
In the next three years, wind could account for 10 percent of American electricity, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press release. The industry already employs over 100,000 Americans.
In Europe, wind has hit the 10.4 percent mark, and employs more than 300,000 people, according to an association for wind energy in Europe. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania lead the way for European wind growth. In the U.S., Texas is the windy frontier.
“Low-cost, homegrown wind energy,” Kiernan added in the release, “is something we can all agree on.”