American Wind Week Offers Chance for Reflection

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Over the years, PACE has written often about the deployment of new energy sources, advocating for the location of those sources where they work best and the integration of those sources in a way that serves both customers and the grid. Our work, for example, led us to Oklahoma in the most recent legislative session to discuss the significant contributions of wind power in that state. We’ve written similar encouraging reviews of utility-scale solar projects in places like New Orleans and Montgomery, Alabama.

As the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) celebrates its first-ever American Wind Week, running August 6th to the 12th, it’s important to recognize the role the wind industry has played – and will continue to play – in the future of American energy production. According to AWEA’s press release, it started the week to “honor the American innovators who taught the world how to harness the wind for large-scale electricity generation.” AWEA also wanted to highlight that modern wind turbines are a U.S. invention. (Confession – even after my 15+ years in the energy industry, this was a new and welcome fact.)

AWEA reports that over 52,000 wind turbines in 41 states are now supplying more than five percent of U.S. electricity. Like AWEA, PACE believes that wind power, when deployed thoughtfully with customers and the grid in mind, can be a “source of affordable, reliable electricity in the United States.” Consider how far wind power has come in recent years –

  • on average, 10 more new turbines go up every single day;
  • there are 100,000 jobs in the wind industry;
  • 500 domestic factories make wind parts.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, led by Acting Assistant Secretary Daniel Simmons, is also celebrating American Wind Week with new reports that provide useful details about how, where, and why wind energy is growing.

The 2016 Wind Technologies Market Report by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory sheds light on the important and growing role of utility-scale wind installations. There are now over 82 GW, enough to “meet about 6.2 percent of U.S. end-use electricity demand in an average year.” Forty states, with North Carolina as the most recent addition, now have utility-scale wind projects. Combined with baseload sources of power such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, these wind projects are providing affordable electricity through long-term power purchase agreements.

While rural landscapes are most commonly the host of utility-scale projects, wind is increasingly headed out to sea with projects such as the nation’s first commercial offshore wind project at Block Island, Rhode Island. There are 20 additional potential offshore projects totaling over 24,000 MW. You can read more about these efforts in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s 2016 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report.

Distributed wind power, while only representing 992 MW nationwide currently, is also a sector worth watching. You can learn more about distributed wind in the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 2016 Distributed Wind Market Report.

American Wind Week and these helpful DOE resources are coming at an important time in national and state energy conversations. As policy makers look to the future, attempting to balance energy demand with reliable supplies, finding the proper role of complementary power sources like wind is an important task. In the case of offshore wind, whose development will likely require public subsidy, it is critical that policy makers have all the facts at hand when weighing costs, benefits, and consequences to the grid of new projects. In the case of other, more traditional wind projects, lawmakers also deserve access to facts that cut through myths and offer clarity for decision-making. That’s because the best decisions are the ones that are best-informed. Here’s hoping American Wind Week and the discussions it generates can help blow away the clutter and reveal the smartest path forward.