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Five Takeaways from 2012's Record US Wind Performance

On Thursday the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) offered more insights into the U.S. wind industry's record-setting performance in 2012, showing trends in project development, geographic proliferation, offtaker and investor activity, and transmission.

Over 13 GW of new wind capacity was added in 2012, accounting for 42 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. Over the past five years, wind has provided more than a third (36 percent) of all new generating capacity in the US, second to natural gas. Renewables writ-large (solar, hydro, geothermal) have accounted for more than half (56 percent). Cumulative wind capacity now tops 60 GW.

At least 183 wind projects were installed in 2012, nearly doubling the 103 installations added in 2011. $25 billion in private investment was poured into new U.S. wind farms.

Owners and Offtakers

More than 43 percent of U.S. electricity providers in the U.S. have wind energy in their mix — that's more than 1400 utilities owning or purchasing wind power, through wholesale electric providers including joint agencies (made up of multiple municipalities), generation and transmission cooperatives, and other authorities. Investor-owned utilities purchase or contract 61 percent of wind capacity tracked to a utility offtaker; public-owned utilities purchase or own 14 percent of wind capacity, while co-ops account for 9 percent.

Xcel Energy is still the most wind-active utility with nearly 4.9 GW of wind in their system; not far behind is MidAmerican (including PacifiCorp) with 4.3 GW. Emily Williams, senior policy analyst for AWEA, pointed to significant increases by American Electric Power (and its SWEPCO subsidiary), CPS Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Seventy-four (74) electric utilities added wind power to their portfolio for the first time, in addition to "at least 18 major industrial consumers and 11 school and universities," according to AWEA.

In the Q&A, Williams pointed to strong utility interest in the Southeast (Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana) to tap into wind energy generated in the Plains states, notably Kansas and the Texas panhandle, via long-term PPAs and at an exceedingly low cost to consumers. The Southeast isn't exactly blessed with wind resources, but the trends in bigger turbine components and improvements in low-wind-speed technologies could improve that region's own wind profile, she added.

By wind project owner, NextEra added the most (~1,500 MW) to account for 11.5 percent of all new wind power capacity. That was more than twice as much as second-place Iberdrola (716 MW), with EDF, Caithness, and Duke Energy adding between 600-660 MW. Of the 183 wind projects installed in 2012, 77 were community wind; 400 entities were managing owners of U.S. project assets, noted Williams. And of the ~60 GW of cumulative U.S. wind power capacity, NextEra owns nearly 10 GW of that, followed by Iberdrola (5.4 GW), MidAmerican (3.7 GW), EDP (3.6 GW), and E.On (2.7 GW), who collectively own 42 percent of installed wind power capacity in the US.

Generating A Buzz

Nine states got more than 10 percent of their energy from wind, up from five in 2011 and just one in 2007. Fourteen states exceeded five percent wind-energy mix. In Texas alone, the biggest electricity market in the country (ERCOT) exceeded 9 percent of its generation from wind last year. A handful of regional power grid operators (ERCOT, SPP, MISO, BPA, and CA-ISO) all set records for wind generation. Xcel Energy's Colorado system has topped 50 percent wind electricity mix "on multiple occasions," according to AWEA.

Fifteen states now have more than a gigawatt of wind power installed (up from six states a year ago), and 34 states plus Puerto Rico have at least 100 MW installed. "As utilities are getting a taste for wind, they want to add it to their distribution portfolio," noted Williams. Ten states and Puerto Rico more than doubled their wind installations; that includes Kansas, which added well over a gigawatt of wind.

Filling In the Map

Wind energy installations saw an uptick in nearly every region of the country in 2012. The Midwest leads the country in wind installations (22 percent), and there's strong wind installation in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska (more than 20 percent). Texas as a region all its own accounts for nearly 14 percent.

Part of the equation in wind energy is getting the power to where it's used. AWEA counted 19 near-term transmission projects which carry an estimated 69,000 MW of extra generation capacity, more than double the current installed base. That represents a 25,000 MW increase over the amount of wind capacity identified at the end of 2011, Williams noted. "There's a big move to increase our transmission capacity, and get wind resources we have to the population," she said. Three transmission projects were completed in 2012: Sunrise Power Link in CA with 500 kV with estimated 1 GW potential wind capacity; plus the Hugo Valiant (345 kV) project in Oklahoma and KETA 345 kV project spanning Kansas-Nebraska.

Another slide in the AWEA presentation illustrated how wind energy is proliferating geographically: more than two-thirds (70.1 percent) of Congressional districts contain either a wind project or manufacturing facility, or both. "Even in areas you don't have wind projects, there's a strong manufacturing base," Williams pointed out.

GE's Rule, and Bigger is Better

Among wind energy suppliers, GE dominated the U.S. market with more than 3,000 turbines installed and exceeding 5 GW of capacity; Siemens was next with 1,100 turbines and 2.6 GW of capacity. In total 6,750 wind turbines were installed in the U.S. in 2012, nearly double the amount from 2011; average nameplate capacity was down slightly (1.95 MW vs. 1.97 MW). Clearly wind technology is trending up in size for both hub heights and rotor diameters, Williams pointed out — Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa are almost exclusively installing turbines on 100-m hub heights — which is opening up new wind resources.

Making the Connection

Rob Gramlich, AWEA's interim CEO, noted there's about 70 GW of new transmission being built, with around 15 GW expected to be completed in 2013. "It's a frustratingly slow sector to work on [but] even despite what seems like molasses, it's flowing pretty strongly now," he said. "Transmission is opening up new markets and allowing new development and influencing where that new development goes."

In the Q&A, Williams noted there are seven pure wind RFPs issued, explicitly designed to take advantage of the PTC extension. Almost all the RFPs from utilities are wind-specific, she added, as opposed to all renewable sources or all energy sources in general.

Lead image: Wind turbine via Shutterstock

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