Project Development, Wind Power

Wind Energy Proves Its Worth During California Crisis

Wind energy has demonstrated its readiness to become a significant contributor to electricity supply in the western United States and to help ease the power shortages in California, according to the industry lobby group.

WASHINGTON, DC – Wind farms in Wyoming and southern California have performed well during the recent supply crisis, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). New facilities will be commissioned next year in Washington, Oregon and Wyoming, as well as California, to bring additional generating capacity to the region. “Wind energy, especially in combination with natural gas-fired power, can help conserve fuel supplies, reduce price spikes, and diversify the electricity generating mix,” said executive director Randall Swisher. “It’s time to start putting the vast wind resources of the west to work.” Wind turbines can offer three major benefits to California’s electricity system, he explains. The price does not fluctuate because wind “fuel” is free, with current costs for modern turbines at less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour in the San Gorgonio pass of southern California, where most turbines operate under 20 or 30 year utility contracts. By comparison, the rising price of natural gas has pushed older gas-fired generating plants past that point, with spot market shortages pushing the price to $10 per kWh. Using wind to generate electricity would also stretch the supply of natural gas for home heating. Although wind energy is intermittent, the greater the number of turbines, the greater the probability of substantial energy from wind farms at any given time. Currently, California has 1,600 MW of wind capacity, generating 1.5 percent of the state’s electricity. California has approved 400 MW of new wind capacity as part of a state program to encourage new renewable energy sources, but the new total capacity will be only 2,000 MW, below the state’s potential of 5,000 MW. Other regions in the western U.S. have higher wind resources that could be tapped, and new wind farms could be combined with energy efficiency and load management measures to reduce California’s shortage of generating capacity. Another 400 MW of new wind capacity will be commissioned next year in Washington, Oregon, Wyoming and Montana, from projects developed by FPL Energy and SeaWest Windpower. “When he was chief of staff to Governor Jerry Brown, Governor Davis played a leading role in developing renewable energy incentives for California,” notes Swisher. “As a result, some 10,000 MW of renewable energy presently help power the state.” “Governor Davis now has a unique opportunity to build on this legacy, and spearhead the effort to make renewable energy a leading source of clean, reliable electricity for Californians,” he explains. The total wind capacity around the world is 15,000 MW, enough to provide power for 4.5 million California homes. Wind was the world’s fastest-growing energy source during most of last decade, with annual growth rates of 25 to 30 percent. Last year, 4,000 MW of new wind capacity was installed around the world for a $4 billion investment, of which $700 million was installed in the U.S. The major states for wind installed wind capacity are California with 1,646 MW, Minnesota with 272 MW, Iowa with 242 MW, and Texas with 188 MW. The cost of generating electricity from wind has declined by 80 percent since the early 1980s, from 38 cents per kWh to the current range of 3 to 6 cents/kWh levelized over a plant’s lifetime. Analysts believe the cost for wind energy will drop to 2.5 cents/kWh soon. “California today is reaping the results of two decades of short-term, quick-fix energy policies,” says Swisher. “Now is the time for the Golden State to take a longer view, and to begin laying the foundations for the long-term energy supply that it needs to continue to be a world-class economy.” Every 100 MW of wind development generates $1 million in property tax revenue, according to AWEA calculations, as well as 500 job-years of employment and $200,000 of lease payments each year to farmers. Each 660 kW wind turbine will displace emissions of 1,100 tons of carbon dioxide, 6 tons of sulfur dioxide and 4 tons of nitrogen oxides, based on average utility fuel mix. AWEA was formed in 1974 to represent the U.S. wind energy industry. Its 700 members includes turbine manufacturers, wind project developers and utilities in 49 states.