U.S. wind surged through its strongest quarter in eight years in the first three months of 2017, installing a new turbine every 2½ hours and growing into an industry that employs more than 100,000 people across the country, according to a report released this week by the American Wind Energy Association.
With two gigawatts of new capacity in just three months, “we switched on more megawatts in the first quarter than in the first three quarters of last year combined,” CEO Tom Kiernan said in a statement.
The three-month haul of 908 new utility-scale wind turbines “is largely a result of the first wave of projects under the renewable energy tax credits that were extended by Congress in 2015, as well as some overflow from the prior round of tax credits,” InsideClimate News reports. “The tax credits’ gradual phase-out over a period of five years incentivized developers to begin construction in 2016, and those projects are now beginning to come online.”
“We are entering an era of stability, and we’re seeing a strong future pipeline of future project development,” said AWEA senior analyst Hannah Hunt. She added that the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), which has another three years to run, gives the industry “a sense of certainty and ability to engage in long-term planning while strengthening domestic supply chains. That’s going to help lower the overall cost of wind energy.”
AWEA anticipates steady growth through 2020, when the PTC expires. After that, renewable energy portfolio standards in states like New York and California will drive demand through the early part of the next decade. “By the mid-2020s, the cost of unsubsidized onshore wind will be low enough to compete with both existing and new fossil-fueled generation in many regions of the U.S.,” ICN notes, citing Bloomberg New Energy Finance wind analyst Alex Morgan.
“Nationwide, wind provided 5.6% of all electricity produced in 2016, an amount of electricity generation that has more than doubled since 2010,” writes reporter Phil McKenna. “Much of the demand for new wind energy generation in recent years has come from Fortune 500 companies including Home Depot, GM, Walmart, and Microsoft that are buying wind energy in large part for its low, stable cost.”
The day before the AWEA release, citing U.S. government figures, the Sun Day campaign reported that non-hydro renewables grew 7.5% in January and February against the same period in 2016, while renewable capacity including hydro was up 6.6%. Natural gas production fell by a dramatic 18.3%, while coal and nuclear generation were off by 1.7 and 0.7%, according to Executive Director Ken Bossong.
Wind and solar supplied fractionally more than half of the country’s new generation in the first three months of 2017, Bossong notes in a separate report