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Onwards and upwards: Onshore wind in the US

RET speaks to analyst Emily Williams, of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), about how the latest market and policy developments in US onshore wind are keeping the country on track to reach 20 per cent of wind energy by 2030

Condon Wind Farm, California
Condon Wind Farm, California

RET: What do you think are the main challenges for US onshore wind power that need to be addressed to move forward?

Emily Williams: US onshore wind came into 2013 with tremendous momentum from 2012. Last year, American wind energy was
the number one source of new generating capacity for the first time, accounting for some 42 per cent. Generation shot up 17 per
cent from 2011, to account for 3.5 per cent of the nation’s electricity, and wind power produced more than 10 per cent of electricity in nine states.

In 2013, a stable investment environment – including protecting states’ Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) – will help American
wind companies continue to create jobs, expand manufacturing and infrastructure, and provide more energy to American consumers. Policy uncertainty is a challenge to any industry. It’s hard for businesses to make proper investments and plan for the future when they’re constantly concerned the landscape could shift in the near future. 

RET: What changes in policy are helping to develop onshore wind technology in the US?

EW: The extension of Production Tax Credits (PTC) encourages stability in the market, boosting the growth of wind power. That stability is important. The wind industry has pumped as much as USD 25bn in private investment into the US in just a single year, and those billions are feeding a recovering American economy.

State RPSs also help build the American wind industry for consumers’ and manufacturers’ benefit. Xcel, Colorado’s largest utility, for example, says that the state’s RPS will ultimately save consumers as much as USD 100m over 25 years. And, a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) report found that Michigan’s RPS resulted in USD 100m investment in the state.

RET: What areas of technology should now be a focus for US onshore wind turbine developers? Why should they be a priority?

EW: Developments in low wind speed technologies, including larger rotor diameters and taller hub heights. This technology is allowing the American wind industry to spread faster into regions of the country where developing wind projects were, in the past,

less economically feasible.

RET: Which regions of the US do you think are key to the future development of onshore wind? Which regions are particularly

benefiting from industry growth?
EW: The growth of the American wind industry has benefitted the United States as a whole by providing clean, limitless energy and acting as an economic driver. In addition to adding billions in investment to our economy each year, US wind power has added a brand new manufacturing sector that supports thousands of well-paying jobs. That manufacturing sector is almost everywhere and currently stretching across nearly 500 facilities in 44 states.

RET: Where would you like to see the US onshore wind market by 2020?

EW: In Q4 2012, the American wind industry installed 8,380MW to bring the total US wind power capacity installations to 60,007MW. 13,124 MW of installations were completed in 2012 [a 12-month record of installed capacity for the country]. The US remains on track to reaching 20 per cent of wind generation by 2030.

Emily Williams is a research analyst at the AWEA, a national trade association representing companies involved in the US wind industry.