Lots of wind not a bad thing

The US wind energy industry racked up a solid gain in 2002 even in the face of an overall retrenchment in the broader energy industry, the Washington, DC-based American Wind Energy Association said today.

The US wind energy industry racked up a solid gain in 2002 even in the face of an overall retrenchment in the broader energy industry, the Washington, DC-based American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said today.

AWEA said total installed wind electric generating capacity expanded by nearly 10% during the year, with 410 MW of new equipment going into service (enough to meet the annual needs of approximately 120,000 average American homes). At year’s end, it said, wind plants in 27 states across the US totalled 4,685 MW, enough to serve more than 1.3 million households.

Although the new additions made 2002 the fourth best year of all time, AWEA executive director Randall Swisher said, the total was down sharply from 2001, when a record 1,696 MW were installed. The lower total, he said, ‘underlines the vital importance of having a stable energy policy environment in which a new industry can grow in a healthy fashion.’

Central to the industry’s agenda in 2003, Swisher said, will be a proposed multi-year extension of the existing US federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC), which is currently scheduled to expire on December 31 2003: ‘(The US) Congress has allowed the PTC to expire twice before renewing it – in 1999 and 2001 – and each time the impact on our industry has been devastating.’

An extension of the credit was included in both the House and Senate versions of last year’s energy bill, which died when Congress could not reach final agreement before adjourning in December.

Last year, the world’s second-largest wind farm, the 263MW Stateline project on the border between the states of Washington and Oregon, became the largest in the US with the addition of another 37 MW, pushing it to 300 MW and surpassing the 278-MW King Mountain Wind Ranch in Texas. Both projects are owned by FPL Energy, a subsidiary of FPL Group and the US’s largest wind energy producer. The Stateline project uses 660-kW Vestas turbines and generates enough electricity annually to serve approximately 70,000 homes.

Also last year, the first utility-scale wind project in West Virginia, the 66-MW Mountaineer Wind Energy Centre on Backbone Mountain, went into service. The wind farm, developed by FPL Energy, consists of 44 1.5- MW NEG Micon turbines, and is the largest east of the Mississippi.

Iowa, which ranks third nationally with 423 MW behind California (1822 MW) and Texas (1095 MW) in wind development, gained another large project, the 98-MW Hancock County Wind Energy Centre. The project was developed by FPL Energy and uses 148 Vestas V47-600 kW turbines.

Several universities purchased wind-generated electricity too. The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC topped the list in percentage terms, agreeing to buy wind power for 12% of its electricity needs.

Wind power’s outlook for 2003 is clouded somewhat by an overall buildup of debt in the electric utility industry that has created financial problems expected to last well into 2004, AWEA said. The utility industry overexpanded in recent years, and financial investment in the sector has nosedived.

‘With the strong possibility of military action in the Middle East, we expect to see more turbulence in the energy market in the year ahead,’ Swisher said. ‘Extension of the PTC is urgently needed to provide planning stability for the growing number of companies -manufacturers, project developers, generating companies, and investors – in our industry.’

AWEA had previously projected a record year with more than 2,000 MW in 2003, but given the growing market uncertainty, has scaled its forecast back to a range of 1,500 to 1,800 MW, Swisher said.

A state-by-state map of wind energy projects is available on AWEA’s Web site at http://www.awea.org/projects/index.html.