‘From Green To Mainstream’: AWEA Reports Continual U.S. Wind Growth


In the third quarter of 2016, U.S. wind power continued to grow at a strong pace, reporting over 20 GW of wind capacity now under construction or in advanced development, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) U.S. Wind Industry Third Quarter 2016 Market Report.

“To put the 20 GW of wind capacity under development in perspective, consider that the entire U.S. wind fleet just recently passed 75 GW,” says Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s CEO. “This enormous growth reflects what we hear from states, utilities and Fortune 500 companies all the time – wind power is increasingly their first choice for energy. It’s a great deal for customers, invests in communities that host turbines, and helps all Americans breathe easier. That’s the wind power success story Americans know and love.”

The report, which was released at the Iowa State Capitol with Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and other industry leaders, notes that this success is particularly apparent in Iowa: Wind power supplied over 35% of the state’s electricity generation on a 12-month rolling average from the end of August 2015 through the end of August 2016, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration.

“Iowa is blessed with tremendous renewable resources and is well positioned to continue drawing companies to Iowa who are seeking low energy costs,” says Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “Wind energy is responsible for over $12 billion of investments in the state, which powers Iowa’s economy and benefits Iowa families.”

Reynolds adds, “The significant milestone that over 35% of our electricity produced in Iowa comes from wind underscores our continued momentum to advance renewable energy and clean energy technology – and with over 3,100 MW of wind under construction or development right now, we are poised to propel our renewable energy economy even further.”

According to AWEA, wind project developers reported 13,563 MW under construction across the U.S. and 6,717 MW in advanced development, which, combined, is a near-record 20,280 MW of additional wind capacity coming soon. An already-strong pipeline of projects was augmented in the third quarter by 2,501 MW of new construction announcements and 1,216 MW of wind capacity entering advanced development.

The association says that billions of dollars in wind development currently underway in Iowa and the Midwest are possible because of forward-looking investments in transmission in recent years. These lines are called the Multi-Value Projects because they improve electric reliability, reduce electric bills for consumers, and allow new renewable resources to connect to the power system.

The Competitive Renewable Energy Zone transmission lines in Texas are another example of infrastructure investments paying off, AWEA adds.

“Wind is winning. Wind is winning here in Iowa, in America, and in the rest of the world,” says Chris Brown, AWEA’s board chairman and president of Vestas Americas. “The unprecedented five-year extension of the production tax credit at the end of last year was a beacon of certainty for our industry and ended the boom-bust cycles we’ve previously weathered. Wind has come from green to mainstream, and that’s because it’s really become an irresistible deal, for big purchasers and for everyone who pays an electric bill – and it’s becoming an even better deal all the time.”

As reported, the wind industry installed 895 MW during the third quarter of 2016, bringing year-to-date installations to 1,725 MW. Wind projects came online in seven states during the third quarter: Texas, Minnesota, Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Massachusetts and Utah. Project developers signed 729 MW of power purchase agreements (PPAs) during the third quarter.

Non-utility purchasers of wind energy, including Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, and Target, represent 33% of total project capacity contracted for the year. AWEA says combined utilities and non-utilities have signed PPAs totaling 3,193 MW so far this year – a 39% increase in activity compared to the same time period last year.

According to AWEA, the price consumers pay for wind fell by two-thirds in six years thanks to technological innovation, allowing turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds, and improved computer controls that make turbines even more efficient.

Further, wind energy in Iowa has attracted $12 billion in private investment and supports up to 7,000 jobs, contributing to economic development opportunities for rural communities. Iowa has the seventh-lowest electricity prices in the country, and wind investments being made today will help keep it that way by locking in a low, stable price for electricity.

Iowa alone accounts for 3,100 MW of the national 20,000 MW under construction or advanced development. That development pipeline means Iowa is set to grow 50% from its current 6,365 MW of installed capacity. Adding another 10,000 MW of wind in Iowa would save consumers an average of $500 million a year over the next 25 years, according to a recent report from the Wind Energy Foundation and AWEA.

AWEA notes that much of the additional wind capacity planned in Iowa can be attributed to MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy. New advanced development announcements during the third quarter include Alliant Energy’s planned 500 MW Whispering Willow expansion, along with utility board approval of MidAmerican Energy’s 2,000 MW Wind XI project.

The report continues, noting that new wind projects in Iowa and across the U.S. are keeping 21,000 American manufacturing workers busy: Companies including Siemens, TPI Composites, and Trinity Structural Towers operate facilities in Iowa that boost the local economy with well-paying jobs.

“Iowans are taking the lead in writing America’s wind energy success story,” says Tony McDowell, plant manager at the Siemens blade factory in Fort Madison. “Siemens made a substantial investment in Iowa when we opened our wind blade factory a decade ago. We’re proud that skilled workers at our Lee County facility have produced more than 14,000 blades for projects across Iowa and the nation, as well as for global customers.”

Noting that Bloomberg Businessweek recently called wind power “the new corn for struggling farmers,” the AWEA report says more than two-thirds, or 68%, of the current installed wind capacity in Iowa (4,357 MW) is located in low-income counties. The installed wind capacity in low-income counties is equivalent to $8.3 billion in capital investment and annual land lease payments between $10 million and $15 million.

Texas continues to be the national leader for installed wind capacity and absolute wind energy generation, though Iowa produces a higher share of electricity from wind than any other state. In the third quarter, Texas became the first state to surpass 18,000 MW of installed wind capacity with 620 MW of wind capacity installed.

Moreover, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico all have over 1,000 MW of wind capacity under construction right now. Iowa, North Dakota and Missouri are close behind with 500 MW or more under construction. Missouri’s 500 MW of wind project construction activity is enough to more than double the state’s 459 MW of existing capacity.

Lastly, recent polls find Americans are united behind wind power, reflecting its contributions to the American economy and clean air. Nearly 85% of adults support expanding wind power, according to a national survey published this month by Pew Research Center. Other recent surveys suggest that the more Americans get to know wind power, the more they like it. A July poll of likely voters in Iowa’s Third Congressional District found 91% of respondents support wind energy.

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