Wind Power Maintains Capacity for Exponential Growth

Jan. 24, 2007
Wind power generating capacity in the U.S. increased by 27% to 11,603 MW in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26% in 2007.

Wind power generating capacity in the U.S. increased by 27% to 11,603 MW in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26% in 2007, according to a market forecast released by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). AWEA gathers the data for its analysis each January by contacting wind farm developers and turbine manufacturers around the country.

The U.S. wind energy industry installed 2454 MW of generating capacity in 2006, an investment of approximately $4 billion. On average, 1 MW of wind-generated electric capacity is sufficient to provide electricity for about 250 to 300 homes.

For the past two years, wind has been the second-largest source of increases to power generation within the U.S., the first being natural gas. According to Randall Swisher, Executive Director of the AWEA, the remoteness and sparseness of the electrical grid at favorable locations are the chief factors limiting the development of additional wind power capacity.

Utility-scale turbines have been installed in a total of 20 states across the country, from Maine to New Mexico to Alaska. The top five states for capacity added in 2006 are Texas (774 MW), Washington (428 MW), California (212 MW), New York (185 MW) and Minnesota (150 MW).

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According to the annual industry outlook that made these projections, Texas accounted for nearly a third of the wind power installed in 2006, taking over the lead from California in cumulative installed capacity. Texas also hosts the world’s single largest operating wind farm, the 735-MW Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, located in Nolan and Taylor counties.

However, Swisher states that California has successfully replaced some of its older wind turbines with larger models in a process referred to in the industry as “re-powering”. Given that early machines having a generating capacity of 65 kW to 300 kW can be potentially replaced with newer units rated at 1.5 MW or more, additional capacity derived from re-powering can be significant without the legal complications associated with an undeveloped location.

AWEA noted that there were wind-industry manufacturing facilities that opened in Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania in 2006. Announcements of additional facilities are expected in 2007. Wind power has also attracted the support of state and federal government legislatures.

Wind energy facilities currently installed in the U.S. will produce an estimated 31 billion kWh of electricity in 2007, enough to serve 2.9 million American homes. This will displace approximately 23 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, which would otherwise be emitted by traditional energy sources such as coal, natural gas and oil. The U.S. Congress recently extended the federal production tax credit (PTC) through December 2008 to further expand the number of wind farms.

Based on the success of the PTC to date, AWEA is calling for extending the provision an additional five years. By then, according to Swisher, offshore wind farms, such as those proposed in the Cape Wind project or by the Long Island Power Authority’s (LIPA) Offshore Wind Park, may also be operational. At present, however, they face a lengthy permitting process, and no development is expected in 2007.

Swisher offers an observation in response to this situation: While there are enormous offshore wind energy resources off the northeast and mid-Atlantic coasts of the U.S., developing offshore wind is more expensive, and the abundant wind energy potential within the U.S. actually makes land-based projects more cost effective.

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