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Drilling Down: What Projects Made 2008 Such a Banner Year for Wind Power?

A little less than three months into the year, the dust is still settling on the largest batch of new wind power construction the U.S. has ever seen. In 2008, the U.S. wind industry activated over 8,300 MW of new capacity, swelling the U.S. cumulative total by 50% to over 25,000 MW and pushing the U.S. above Germany as the country with the largest amount of wind energy capacity installed.

Wind power was a close second to natural gas in terms of new capacity added in the U.S. (it has now been the second-largest new power generation technology for four years). Had the wind energy production tax credit not been extended until very late in the year, the new capacity additions could have been much higher. Nearly 4,000 MW of projects that could have been commissioned in 2008 will now be brought online in the early part of 2009.

Assuming a fleet-wide capacity factor of 33%, the new turbines installed in 2008 should generate over 72 billion kWh in 2009, or enough electricity to power the equivalent of close to 7 million average U.S. households.

Unfortunately, new project construction starts currently appear to be slumping badly as developers try to find construction capital. The passage of the stimulus bill may help with that, but AWEA expects some 5,000 MW in total to be brought online in 2009.

AWEA is working on a full market report, due out in the spring, that will provide details on the full existing and under-construction wind power project list.

Turbines

Installed wind turbines continue to grow larger, but at a slower rate. Nearly 5,000 turbines were brought online in 2008, nudging the average new turbine capacity of those installed in 2008 to 1.67 MW, up from 1.65 in 2007. The 1.5-MW turbine size is still by far the most popular — over half the machines installed in 2008 were 1.5-MW units.

The AWEA wind power projects database does track installations of turbines 100-kW and larger, but there are few installed in the 100-kW to 1-MW range. Larger turbines are pulling the average up a little, though: 125 3-MW and 240 2.5-MW turbines were installed. Full data on tower height was not collected, but it is clear that towers are getting taller as well. Some of the larger units are installed on 100-meter towers.

Several turbine manufacturers new to the U.S. market saw their machines installed here in 2008. Acciona, AWE, Fuhrlander, and REPower entered the market, adding to the supply provided by Clipper, Gamesa, GE Energy, Mitsubishi, Nordex, Siemens, Suzlon and Vestas. The full listing of market share by turbine manufacturer for 2008 installations will be available in the upcoming wind market report, due out in late March.

Projects

Although some progress was made on several proposed offshore projects, the U.S. market continues to be entirely land-based at the present time. Two of the five largest single-owner projects in the country — Capricorn Ridge and Buffalo Gap — had phases added in 2008. Capricorn Ridge now stands at 662.5 MW, and Buffalo Gap at 523.3 MW.

All of the five largest wind projects, which are also all the single-owner installations larger than 400 MW, are in the Southwest: four in Texas and one in Colorado. The wind areas of Tehachapi (approx. 700 MW), San Gorgonio (approx. 350 MW), and Altamont Pass (approx. 550 MW) in California are not considered single wind farms because the projects contained in them are owned by many different owners.

Below are the top 5 wind facilities in size:

Project Name

State

Installed Capacity (MW)

Year Online

Owner

Horse Hollow

TX

735.5

2005, 2006

NextEra Energy (formerly FPL Energy)

Capricorn Ridge

TX

662.5

2007, 2008

NextEra Energy

Sweetwater

TX

585.3

2003, 2005, 2007

Babcock & Brown, Catamount

Buffalo Gap

TX

523.3

2005, 2007, 2008

AES

Peetz Table

CO

400.5

2007

NextEra Energy

Beyond sheer project size, one noteworthy trend is that a number of interesting "community wind" projects were brought online in 2008. Wray, CO saw the installation of one 900-kW AWE turbine after years of work to bring the project to fruition. According to the Rocky Mountain News, the Wray school district committed about US $1 million to the project, a local citizen contributed $200,000, and the state of Colorado's Clean Energy Impact Grant program contributed $350,000; however, that still fell short of the $1.8-million estimated project cost. That gap was filled by NativeEnergy, which bought the green tags for resale, allowing construction to start on a project that would feature one of the country's first AWE turbines. It is estimated that the 900-kW turbine will provide about one-fifth of the town of Wray's power needs and will make $40,000-100,000 a year for the school district.

One GE Energy 1.5-MW turbine is also now up and operating at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, NM. The turbine serves as the heart of Mesalands' Wind Energy Technology course, which will prepare new wind turbine technicians with courses in wind technology, turbine maintenance, tower safety and wind economics.

States

Indiana saw its first utility-scale project installed in 2008 — a 130.5-MW facility developed by Orion Energy Group. In addition, BP Alternative Energy has started construction on a 400-MW project in the state, ensuring that Indiana will rank among the fastest-growing states in 2009 as well.

Other fast-growing states include Michigan, which added 127 MW to its end-2007 total of 2.6 MW; Utah, which boosted its total to 20 MW from its previous total of 1 MW; New Hampshire, which saw the addition of a 24-MW plant; Wisconsin, which added three large wind plants; and West Virginia, which, at 330 MW in total capacity currently, quadrupled its end-of-2007 total.

Also taking place was some jockeying toward the top of the state-rankings chart. Iowa more than doubled its alreadylarge total, surging into second place in the U.S., behind only Texas. California, once the location of practically all the wind activity in the U.S., now ranks third for wind capacity.

Texas once again saw the addition of the largest amount of new capacity — 2,669 MW — moving it into a league of its own. More new wind capacity was added in Texas in 2008 than in any country except China and the U.S. If Texas were a country, it would rank sixth in the world, behind Germany, the rest of the U.S., Spain, China, and India.

Another impressive finisher: New York doubled its end-2007 capacity; moreover, the state has a number of projects poised to be fully commissioned that will raise its total past the 1 GW (1,000 MW) mark. In that regard, there are now seven states in the "Over-1 Club," with Colorado and Oregon joining the top five states of Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota and Washington.

Details on existing and under-construction projects are available at the AWEA Projects website.  AWEA business members can access information about proposed projects by logging into the members-only center or by emailing AWEA project information manager Kathy Belyeu at kbelyeu@awea.org. Please check the site for the full market report in the spring.

Kathy Belyeu is manager of industry information services at AWEA.

This article first appeared in the February 2009 issue of Windletter and was republished with permission from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

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