Every two and a half hours, workers installed a new wind turbine in the United States during the first quarter of 2017, marking the strongest start for the wind industry in eight years, according to a new report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released on May 2.
“We switched on more megawatts in the first quarter than in the first three quarters of last year combined,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, said in a statement.
Nationwide, wind provided 5.6 percent of all electricity produced in 2016, an amount of electricity generation that has more than doubled since 2010. Much of the demand for new wind energy generation in recent years has come from Fortune 500 companies including Home Depot, GM, Walmart and Microsoft that are buying wind energy in large part for its low, stable cost.
The significant increase this past quarter, when 908 new utility-scale turbines came online, is largely a result of the first wave of projects under the renewable energy tax credits that were extended by Congress in 2015, as well as some overflow from the prior round of tax credits. The tax credits’ gradual phase-out over a period of five years incentivized developers to begin construction in 2016, and those projects are now beginning to come online.
A recent AWEA-funded report projects continued steady growth for the wind energy industry through 2020. Energy analysts, however, say that growth could slow after 2020 as the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) expires.
“We are in a PTC bubble now between 2017 and 2020,” said Alex Morgan, a wind energy analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which recently forecast wind energy developments in the U.S. through 2030. “Our build is really front-loaded in those first four years. We expect that wind drops off in early 2020s to mid-2020s, and then we expect it to come back up in the late 2020s.
A key driver in the early 2020s will be renewable portfolio standards in states like New York and California, which have both mandated that local utilities get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
By the mid-2020s, the cost of unsubsidized onshore wind will be low enough to compete with both existing and new fossil-fueled generation in many regions of the U.S., Morgan said.
The 2,000 megawatts of new wind capacity added in the first quarter of 2017 is equivalent to the capacity of nearly three average size coal-fired power plants. However, because wind power is intermittent—turbines don’t produce electricity when there is no wind—wind turbines don’t come as close to reaching their full capacity of electricity generation as coal fired power plants do.
The report shows that Texas continues as the overall national leader for wind power capacity, with 21,000 MW of total installed capacity, three times more than Iowa, the second leading state for wind power installations. Over 99 percent of wind farms are built in rural communities; together, the installations pay over $245 million per year in lease agreements with local landowners, according to AWEA.
The new installation figures also translate to continued job growth in America’s wind power supply chain, which includes 500 factories and over 100,000 jobs, according to AWEA.