Wind Energy Accelerates Record Growth in First Quarter

Strong growth in the U.S. wind energy industry accelerated during the first quarter of 2015, with a near-record 13,600 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity under construction across 100 projects in 23 states.

This bumper crop of new wind projects will be on display in less than three weeks when over 8,000 are expected to join industry leaders at WINDPOWER 2015 Conference and Exhibitionin Orlando, Fla., May 18-21, the U.S. industry’s largest annual event. 

“We’re just getting this bounce back started,” said American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Tom Kiernan. “Over $23 billion worth of new wind farms are in development now, and more will follow as we work to double American wind power by 2020.”

To keep the success story going, Kiernan said Congress must provide a stable business environment by extending the Production Tax Credit for as long as possible. “No one wants to throw a promising American industry off a cliff, but that’s what could happen to future development unless the PTC is extended,” he said.

The release of AWEA’s U.S. Wind Industry First Quarter 2015 Market Report comes on the heels of AWEA’s 2014 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report which showed strong construction and manufacturing activity at over 500 facilities in 43 states added nearly 23,000 jobs in 2014. That increases the total amount of full-time equivalent jobs supported by U.S. wind energy to 73,000 as of the start of 2015.

“These latest numbers confirm that the immediate future for the wind industry is bright, as we’re seeing the second highest construction levels in U.S. history for new wind projects,” said Hannah Hunt, Research Analyst for AWEA and author of AWEA’s first quarter market report. 

The U.S. wind industry completed 131 megawatts of generating capacity in the first quarter (traditionally the slowest quarter of the year for completions). These wind turbines were installed across three projects in different states with most of the new capacity installed in Texas (110 MW), followed by Iowa (20 MW) and New York (1 MW).

Wind developers also reported 1,200 MW of new construction activity in the first quarter of 2015 for projects that were previously under development, contributing to more than 13,600 MW of total capacity under construction as of March 31.

The top state with the most under construction is Texas, where a “wind rush” is underway with more than 7,800 MW being built, most of it connected to the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission lines in West Texas. Rounding out the top five are Oklahoma with over 890 MW under construction, Kansas with more than 870 MW, New Mexico with 680 MW, and North Dakota with over 530 MW.

The market continued to expand for stably-priced wind energy during the first quarter of 2015. Successful companies, electric cooperatives and other non-utility groups signed 750 MW of new power purchase agreements (PPAs) for wind power in the first quarter, adding to the roughly 11,300 MW of power purchase agreements signed during 2013-2014.

More than half of the PPAs signed in the first quarter of 2015 were by four companies: Dow Chemical (200 MW), Walmart (50 MW), Kaiser Permanente (43 MW), and Google Energy (43 MW). This trend builds on a strong showing in 2014, when 23 percent of the MW contracted through PPAs was by non-utility groups.

The busy construction season in 2015 comes after 2014 added four times as much generating capacity as the year before. It sustains the U.S. ranking as number one in the world in wind energy production. That is due to our world-class wind resources; the fact that our turbines are among the most productive in the world (measured in capacity factors, or the percentage of theoretical maximum that the turbines put onto the power grid); and the success of the Production Tax Credit in incentivizing the highest possible production.

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