A Windy Future


    Strong demand continues to drive wind power development.

    Strong demand for affordable, reliable wind energy drove a busy first quarter for new U.S. wind farm announcements. Wind power’s low cost and stable energy prices motivated utility and non-utility customers to sign contracts for 3,500 megawatts (MW) of U.S. wind capacity in the first quarter of 2018, a high-water mark in recent years, according to a report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The U.S. Wind Industry First Quarter 2018 Market Report (www.awea.org/1q2018) also reveals 5,523 MW in first quarter wind project announcements, adding to a total of 33,449 MW of wind power capacity in the combined construction and advanced development pipeline.

    “Word is out that wind power is an excellent source of affordable, reliable, and clean energy,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “Our industry is consistently growing the wind project pipeline as leading companies, including utilities and brands like AT&T and Nestle, keep placing orders. Strong demand for wind power is fueling an economic engine supporting a record 105,500 U.S. wind jobs in farm and factory towns across the nation.”

    Utilities and Fortune 500 brands both continue to scale up investments in wind energy because it makes good business sense. The cost of wind power has fallen by two-thirds since 2009, making wind cost-competitive with other energy sources. In fact, in strong wind resource regions such as the Great Plains and Texas, wind is the most cost-effective source of new electricity, AWEA said. And because wind power has no fuel costs, buyers can lock in low rates for decades to protect against future fuel price spikes.

    Wind energy customers signed more than 3,500 MW in long-term contracts — power purchase agreements (PPAs) — in the first quarter. That’s the highest volume of PPA announcements in any quarter since AWEA began tracking them in 2013. Six companies, including Adobe, AT&T, and Nestle, signed wind PPAs for the first time, while Bloomberg, Facebook, Nike, and T-Mobile became repeat customers. In addition, utility buyers including PacifiCorp and DTE Energy made large-scale announcements to develop and own wind power.

    Across the country, 36 wind projects representing a combined 5,523 MW announced that they either began construction or entered advanced development in the first quarter. Construction started on 1,366 MW of wind capacity and 4,158 MW entered advanced stages of development, which includes projects that have found a buyer for their energy, announced a firm turbine order, or have been announced to proceed under utility ownership. The full pipeline of wind farms under construction or in advanced development now totals 33,449 MW, a 40 percent increase compared with this time last year and the highest level since this statistic was first measured at the beginning of 2016.

    Seven new wind farms came online across seven states in the quarter, totaling 406 MW. In total, there are now 89,379 MW of installed wind capacity in the United States. That’s more than 54,000 wind turbines operating in 41 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico and enough installed capacity to power more than 27 million American homes.

    More wind project announcements

    Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), an American Electric Power company, announced in May that the Arkansas Public Service Commission determined the Wind Catcher Energy Connection project is in the public interest. Wind Catcher Energy Connection is a major wind farm and a dedicated power line that will bring energy to AEP customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The $4.5 billion project includes the acquisition of a 2,000-MW wind farm under construction in the Oklahoma Panhandle and construction of an approximately 350-mile dedicated power line that will carry the wind energy to the Tulsa area, where the existing grid will deliver it to customers.

    Wind Catcher is the largest single-site wind project in the United States. The wind farm is under development by Invenergy in Cimarron and Texas counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle. SWEPCO and PSO will purchase the facility at completion, which is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020.

    Ameren Missouri, a subsidiary of Ameren Corporation, also announced that it entered into an agreement to acquire, after construction, a 400-MW wind farm in northeast Missouri, the largest ever in the state. The facility would be built by an affiliate of Terra-Gen, LLC in Adair and Schuyler counties. Groundbreaking is expected in summer 2019.

    The wind farm will consist of 175 American-made wind turbines that will stand more than 450 feet above the ground. These types of turbines will be among the most technologically advanced in the state. Energy produced by the wind farm will power an estimated 120,000 homes by 2020.

    The wind farm is enabled by the expanded transmission capacity made possible by Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois’ Mark Twain Transmission Project, approved in January by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The Mark Twain Transmission Project has a targeted in-service date of December 2019.

    Ameren Missouri’s planned investments include approximately $1 billion to build wind generation projects in Missouri and possibly neighboring states, resulting in at least 700 MW of new wind-generated energy by 2020.

    The Massachusetts Electric Distribution Companies (EDCs) announced that Vineyard Wind’s proposed 800-MW wind farm and electricity transmission project advanced as a preferred solution in the Massachusetts Green Communities Act Section 83C RFP for offshore wind energy projects. Vineyard Wind seeks to build the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States.

    Under Massachusetts law, the selection of Vineyard Wind by the EDCs and Department of Energy Resources allows all parties to begin negotiations to secure all necessary transmission services and power purchase agreements to facilitate the delivery of offshore wind electricity to Massachusetts customers. With passage of An Act to Promote Energy Diversity in 2016, Massachusetts required the state’s EDCs to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy within the next decade, resulting in intense competition among offshore wind lease holders for long-term contracts with utilities in Massachusetts.

    Vineyard Wind recently took another significant step in its effort to build the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States by submitting the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report with state regulators. The filing advances the company’s proposal to construct an 800-MW wind farm 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard while maintaining Vineyard Wind’s early timetable to begin construction in 2019 and become operational by 2021.

    Stantec announced in late May that it was selected to lead environmental assessment for the Skipjack Wind Farm, an offshore wind project being developed by Deepwater Wind off the coast of Maryland. Deepwater Wind is the only company to fully build and operate an offshore wind farm in the United States, the Block Island Wind Farm located off the coast of Rhode Island.

    Deepwater Wind’s 120-MW Skipjack Wind Farm is Maryland’s first offshore wind farm, with the potential to deliver enough renewable energy to power 35,000 Maryland homes.

    Stantec, which has a team based locally in Laurel, Md., along with technical and regulatory experts along the East Coast, will lead a team of local biologists, engineers, marine archaeologists, and other researchers to conduct extensive marine and environmental assessments. Stantec is supported by Maryland-based environmental firms to facilitate the project’s state and federal permitting efforts.

    Economic and environmental benefits of wind power, as well as in-depth market trends, are available in AWEA’s U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report 2017 at http://www.awea.org/amr2017.

    Information provided by the American Wind Energy Association (www.awea.org), Southwestern Electric Power Co. (https://swepco.com/info/projects/windcatcher), Ameren Missouri (www.ameren.com/missouri), Vineyard Wind (www.vineyardwind.com), and Stantec (www.stantec.com).