With over 1.6 GW of new wind capacity installed during the third quarter and nearly 3.6 GW installed in 2015 so far, America's wind power industry continues to gain strength, but policy uncertainty still looms, according to the newly released U.S. Wind Industry Third Quarter 2015 Market Report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
The report shows that the market for low-cost wind energy continues to expand, with both Fortune 500 companies and American cities choosing to cut carbon pollution and cut costs with American wind power, says AWEA.
For the year, the U.S. wind energy industry has installed more than double the megawatts installed during the first three quarters of 2014, according to the report.
Edging closer to the 70 GW threshold, there is now over 69.47 GW of installed wind capacity across the U.S. A near-record of more than 13.25 GW of wind capacity is under construction, and an additional 4.1 GW is in advanced stages of development.
Highlights from the third quarter include breaking ground on North Carolina's first-ever wind farm. Once the project is completed, it will be the largest in the Southeast and will bring the total number of U.S. states with a commercial-scale wind farm to 40.
Corporate purchasers, including Amazon and Hewlett-Packard, and U.S. cities, including the District of Columbia, all increased their investment in wind power during the third quarter by signing power purchase agreements for low-cost wind. These long-term contracts help non-utility purchasers of wind hedge against the risk of increasing fuel costs by locking in low, fixed-cost rates for wind energy output. These commitments also help companies and cities to achieve their internal carbon reduction targets.
The third quarter also saw the commissioning of two utility-scale wind projects with corporate purchaser investments from Microsoft and Wal-Mart. Just this week, Procter and Gamble announced it would buy 80% of the output from a 123 MW wind farm under development in Muenster, Texas.
AWEA notes that access to ample transmission infrastructure is an important catalyst for future growth of wind energy. The Competitive Renewable Energy Zone lines in Texas helped spur the ongoing wind rush in that state, and grid operators across the Plains and Midwest have followed suit by modeling transmission policies after Texas' success.
However, says the association, there continue to be barriers to spreading wind energy's low-cost benefits to all corners of the country.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee voted by a strong bipartisan margin of 23-3 for a tax extenders package that includes an extension of the primary federal tax incentives for expanding renewable electricity generation. However, Congress has yet to pass the bill – leaving the production tax credit and investment tax credit in doubt.
The industry is gaining strength now, but wind installations dropped 92% in 2013 – the last time Congress did not provide wind power with policy stability and thus caused the economy to lose $23 billion and nearly 30,000 jobs, according to AWEA.
Recently, over 2,000 business voices urged Congress to extend federal tax provisions, including the renewable energy tax credits. Earlier this month, 580 clean energy companies sent a letter to Congress calling for an extension of the renewable energy tax credits.
"We are on the cusp of greatness," states Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. "There are over $20 billion worth of wind farms under construction right now, creating well paying jobs and spurring economic development in rural communities across the country. This growth is in jeopardy, however, as continued policy uncertainty could throw the wind industry off yet another economic cliff."
AWEA's full report can be accessed here.