Gusting Wind: Good news in renewable power

2007 saw a real gust of wind, with wind power faceplate installations increasing by 45 percent.  With 5244 megawatts (mw) of installation, US installed wind power capacity is nearing 17 gigawatts, with installations in 34 states.  In 2008, for the first time, the United States should have over 1 percent of its electricity come from wind power.  

One percent, doesn’t sound like all that much, but 45 percent growth?  If we were extend that growth rate, 45 percent per annum, out into the future, by 2020, wind power would provide 85% of today’s electricity demand with a faceplate capacity of 1,452,748 megawatts.  (That is the January 2020 figure, add in 45% growth for 2020 and that would put it above 2.1 terrawatts.)

Okay, a 45% per annum growth rate does seem extreme and the 1.45 terrawatts of wind capacity seems a bit much to expect by 2020, but wind power has been growing strong, as long as there is good government policy … can we have policy that might maximize wind’s contribution to our energy supply?

The American Wind association released INSTALLED U.S. WIND POWER CAPACITY SURGED 45% IN 2007: AMERICAN WIND ENERGY ASSOCIATION MARKET REPORT earlier today.

Shattering all its previous records, the U.S. wind energy industry installed 5,244 megawatts (MW) in 2007, expanding the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 45% in a single calendar year and injecting an investment of over $9 billion into the economy, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced today.  The new wind projects account for about 30% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally in 2007 and will power the equivalent of 1.5 million American households annually while strengthening U.S. energy supply with clean, homegrown electric power.

 

Almost 1/3rd of new electrical power supplies in 2007, carbon-free, renewable wind power.

“This is the third consecutive year of record-setting growth, establishing wind power as one of the largest sources of new electricity supply for the country,” said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher.

 

Each year that passes, there is ever more wind power into the US electrical grid and worldwide.  While some retreat to NIMBYism, others are mesmerized by the turning turbine blades and their promise of a better future.

There is, however, a real set of challenges. Will we have the policy, the government support to foster strong growth in the wind sector.

Back to Swisher:

“This remarkable and accelerating growth is driven by strong demand, favorable economics, and a period of welcome relief from the on-again, off-again, boom-and-bust, cycle of the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind power.”

“But the PTC and tax incentives for other renewable energy sources are now in danger of lapsing at the end of this year—and at the worst moment for the U.S economy,” added Swisher.  “The U.S. wind industry calls on Congress and the President to quickly extend the PTC—the only existing U.S. incentive for wind power—in order to sustain this remarkable growth along with the manufacturing jobs, fresh economic opportunities, and reduction of global warming pollution that it provides.”

Okay, the PTC is highly problemmatic. It promises money (nwo 1.9 cents) per kilowatt hour for a fixed number of years (now ten) for wind power. This credit, however, really is only meaningful to the most wealthy Americans, earning substantial money passively.  It does not provide an easy path for you, I, most Americans to invest in a wind power future.  And, the PTC was put into place when earlier incentives for wind power built many turbines but didn’t necessarily keep them in operation.  Today’s turbines, today’s technologies are far better: does all the incentive structure need to be putting fiscal obligations on tomorrow rather than, perhaps, figuring out paths to lowering borrowing costs upfront and lowering the defer payments?

Despite any problems with the PTC, it has been highly effective at sparking more wind power. Absent something better, it is critical for fostering a move toward a cleaner electrical future.

Wind power installations are strong when PTC is in place and it stalls when it isn’t.  

The 2007 Energy Bill, passed in December, failed to include an extension of the PTC, which is set to expire at the end of this year.  Wind power, major solar power, businesses thrive on certainty for planning.  Will there be a PTC? Or not? Would you invest in a wind turbine manufacturing facility in the United States with this uncertainty?  Would you invest in planning a wind facility that can’t go up until 2012 if there is uncertainty about the fiscal environment.  Gusting wind is one of the promising paths for reducing America’s (and the globe’s) addiction to carbon emissions.  That December failure due to Roadblock Republicans fighting against fixing problems in the tax code related to the top five oil companies, fixes that would have provided about $13 billion for renewable power (such as, you’ve got it, an extension of the Production Tax Credit).

Absent a better path for wind, the PTC is a critical necessity and 39 Republicans (and Mary Landrieu) voted to stop it (and John McCain couldn’t be bothered to show up to show that his Global Warming “straight talk” is something more than talk).

Now, let’s review AWEA’s statements about wind’s benefits:

Helps protect consumers from increases in electricity costs due to volatile fuel prices and supply disruptions:  by reducing the use of natural gas and other fuels used for electricity generation, and lowering the pressure on their price, wind can save consumers money, even in regions with low or no wind resources.  

Wind power is immune to the rising costs of fossil fuels and, once built, has minimal operating costs.  And, studies are showing that wind power lowers over all system costs.

Reduces global warming emissions: To generate the same amount of electricity using the average U.S. power plant fuel mix would cause over 28 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) to be emitted annually.

Coal provides 50% of US electricity and accounts for about 27 percent of US GHG emissions (and substantial and growing worldwide).  Serious about global warming: that 27% needs to go away, soon.

Conserves precious water resources: Wind farms don’t need water for steam or for cooling, a benefit that is increasingly valuable in arid areas and in times of drought.

The South East, the South West, the Great Plains emptying the Ogawalla Acquifer … this benefit should not be underestimated.

Wind power’s strong performance is expected to continue this year, with AWEA’s initial estimates indicating that 2008 could equal 2007 in new wind capacity installed.

Good news, perhaps, but what we want to see is growth.  

And, we want to know that 2009 will see even more than 2008.

And, 2010 …

We can all help makeAmericaEnergy Smart.
Ask yourself:  
Are you doing your part to
ENERGIZE AMERICA?

     

     

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