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Building on a Breeze

May 1, 2006
As an alternate source, wind energy is a cool breeze of reliable, clean power in a world of rapidly depleting natural resources and pollution.

The last few years have seen gusts of growth in the demand for wind energy, and that demand does not appear to be waning. Last year was a record-breaker for wind power. Globally, 11,769 mW of wind energy were installed, representing a 43.4 percent increase from 2004 to 2005. Worldwide installation of wind power generation equipment totaled $14 billion with total worldwide wind power capacity currently at 59,322 mW.

Although Europe is one of the largest users of wind energy, the United States clearly leads the global wind power marketplace in terms of growth. With natural gas prices in flux, wind power is an attractive energy solution with an added bonus of tax incentives in nearly 20 states. Last year, wind turbines producing more than 2,500 mW were installed in 22 states, totaling $3 billion worth of generating equipment. Installations in 2005 boosted the U.S. wind power turbine base by over 35 percent, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Washington, D.C. For 2006, AWEA expects to see well over 3,000 mW installed.

Today, wind turbines provide nearly 1 percent of the nation's energy to the grid. In total, wind energy facilities produce enough electricity for 2.3 million households and displace 15 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

By 2020, wind power is expected to provide at least 6 percent of the nation's electricity. Nonetheless, there is a significant amount of untapped potential in the U.S. wind energy market. According to the AWEA, the potential amount of electricity that could be generated from wind in the United States is estimated at 10,777 billion kWh annually — three times the total electricity currently generated in the United States

U.S. wind energy history

Wind energy in the United States got its start with many of the country's farmers. In 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created and charged with administering loan programs for rural electrification and telephone service, but not all farmers and ranchers waited for the REA to string electric lines to their farms. Instead, they produced their own electricity from small wind generators.

In response to the '70s energy crisis, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) required utilities to buy electricity from nonutility power producers as a means of reducing emissions and dependence on other sources of energy.

Since the late 1970s, wind power has spread to all states that have minimum requirements for commercial production of electricity from wind. California wind developers jumped on this deal. Wind turbines were first installed in California in 1981. Today, the state generates 2,150 mW of wind power.

Texas, which currently produces 1,995 mW of wind power, is expected in 2006 to overtake California as having the most wind power capacity installed statewide. North Dakota has been identified as the state with the most potential based on the availability of developable windy areas.

Promoting the growth of wind power

Many states are helping speed the growth of wind power by enacting legislation requiring a portion of the state's energy to come from reusable resources. These states view wind energy not only as an environmentally safe resource for reusable energy but also as a way to boost the economy.

“More states are looking seriously at wind energy these days as an engine of economic development,” said Randall Swisher, AWEA's executive director. “What they are seeing confirms a major study released last fall by the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP). It reported that boosting wind energy from 6,000 mW to 50,000 mW nationwide would create 150,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Indeed, the wind-energy market created 10,000 new jobs in 2005 — in addition to powering 700,000 homes. The AWEA predicts that increasing installations to eight times today's levels would bring $50 billion in new investments and could create 150,000 new jobs. Wind farms will also generate $5 million in payments to landowners.

To drive this development, 19 states have enacted renewable power requirements, known as renewables portfolio standards. These standards require that a minimum amount of electricity be supplied from renewable sources.

In 2005, Congress extended the wind power production credit. The Production Tax Credit, enacted in 1992, provides a 1.9 cent per kilowatt-hour credit for electricity commercially produced from a wind energy facility. The 2005 extension will not expire for five years, allowing wind energy to build on last year's wave of development. In the past, the credit has not been immediately renewed.

Manufacturing companies are increasing their investments in wind energy as natural gas prices and supply remain in flux. Unlike natural gas, which is dependant on fuel price spikes, wind energy pricing is more consistent. Companies such as GE Energy, Vestas and Suzlon continue to install wind-energy equipment. GE Energy accounted for 60 percent of the new capacity added in 2005. As new companies enter the U.S. marketplace for wind energy, the market will become less concentrated.

Utility companies are also increasing purchases of wind energy. Southern California Edison, historically the largest purchaser of wind energy, took second chair in 2005 when Xcel Energy lead utilities in the purchase of wind energy. Xcel Energy powers systems in Minnesota, Texas and Colorado. Other major purchasers include Pacific Gas & Electric, PPM Energy and TXU.

The explosive growth of wind power will continue through 2006 and beyond. Fueled by the continuation of tax incentives and a growing consumer demand for clean, environmentally safe energy sources, manufacturers and distributors will continue to increase installations and purchases. All signs indicate that wind power will continue to grow into its vast potential.

Scott Meador is vice president for the Apparatus Services Division of Shermco Industries, Irving, Texas, a leading provider of safe, reliable testing and life extension services, maintenance and analysis of rotating equipment and electrical power distribution systems, and professional training for the light, medium and heavy industrial base nationwide. He is an associate member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power Engineering Society and is currently assisting the American Wind Energy Association in developing safety guidelines for the wind industry.

States with the Most Wind Energy

(by capacity)1. California (2,150 mW) 2. Texas (1,995 mW) 3. Iowa (836 mW) 4. Minnesota (744 mW) 5. Oklahoma (475 mW) 6. New Mexico (407 mW) 7. Washington (390 mW) 8. Oregon (338 mW) 9. Wyoming (288 mW) 10. Kansas (264 mW)

Top 10 States for Wind Energy Potential

As measured by annual energy potential in billions of kWh, California doesn't make it into the Top 10. For the most part, the windiest states are in the Great Plains.

1. North Dakota (1,210) 2. Texas (1,190) 3. Kansas (1,070) 4. South Dakota (1,030) 5. Montana (1,020) 6. Nebraska (868) 7. Wyoming (747) 8. Oklahoma (725) 9. Minnesota (657) 10. Iowa (551) Source: “An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States,” Pacific Northwest Laboratory, 1991.

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