Wind Power and Wind Farms

New Report Reveals the State of the Business

Wind Power and Wind Farms
September 24, 2015

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released the 2014 Wind Technologies Market Report, providing a comprehensive update on the state of wind power within the US and the challenges that lie ahead. The report shows that while US wind power capacity has been increasing, the lack of a coherent and comprehensive governmental policy will likely keep the wind industry apprehensive about future direction and growth beyond the next few years.

For a bit more depth on the issues, see the categories below.

  • Capacity – 2014 was a recovery year for wind power additions, with 4.85 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity and $8.3 billion in investments. That's 24% of the additional capacity installed in 2014 across all power sources, behind natural gas (38%) and solar power (30%). Total US wind capacity is now at 65.88 GW, second only to China with 114.76 GW. However, total US wind capacity is still just below 5% of the overall annual US energy consumption.
  • Local Breakdown – Wind farms and capacity improvements are very localized thanks to various state investment programs and mandates — not to mention the fact that wind power is just more efficient in certain areas thanks to Mother Nature.

The Great Plains and the West have greatly increased capacity, offshore wind farms are increasing along the East Coast, and Texas now has 14 GW of the total US capacity. However, the Southeastern US has a negligible wind power presence, at only 2% of power capacity growth generated since 2007. Check the US Wind Farm Map for local details.

  • Cost – Wind power is becoming competitive with natural gas, having dropped to a bit under two cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). It is not just due to subsidies — turbines are much larger and more efficient. Other technological improvements and the economies of scale are also improving the economics of wind power. However, a bottleneck remains in the queue for approval to connection to the grid. 30% of the total wind capacity is sitting idle waiting for the final connection to be made.
  • Subsidies – Critics argue that the industry is too heavily subsidized, but unpredictability of funding support may be a bigger problem. Wind power projects take considerable time to bring from the drawing board through the approval and construction phases and eventual hookup to the power grid. It is difficult for developers and investors to make reasonable decisions when subsidies are continually allowed to expire and revived at later dates.

That is exactly what has been happening with the Production Tax Credit (PTC) since its first "expiration" in 1999. 2012 was a banner year and 2013 was a poor year for wind expansion, because the PTC was set to expire before the end of 2012. It was eventually renewed only to cover projects that started the "under construction" phase before the end of 2014. Thus, projections for capacity growth average in the 8 GW range for 2015 and a bit less than 7 GW in 2016 before falling to less than 2 GW in 2017.

  • Environmental Pushback – In some areas, environmental concerns are delaying wind projects. Offshore wind projects in the Northeast and along the Atlantic seaboard are being bitterly contested to the point where projects are effectively stalled. This may put a dent in the 2015/2016 wind capacity numbers as 16 wind-related projects are in various stages along the East Coast, comprising around 15GW of planned capacity.
  • Clean Power Plan – The recent rules announced by the EPA should be a boon for wind power, as the final version mandates a 32% reduction in carbon emissions by power plants (over 2005 baseline emissions) by the year 2030. Wind has some major advantages as the states with some of the toughest reduction tasks are in wind-friendly areas. However, credits from the corresponding Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) do not take effect until 2020. Combine that with the PTC funding issue and wind could suffer from a lag time in investment while new natural gas plants fill the gap during the transition away from coal.

Anyone interested in a more detailed analysis can download the full DOE report here. In the meantime, keep an eye on Washington for policy changes, and contact your Congressional representatives if you have a strong opinion on wind power one way or the other. It may not seem like it at times, but the voices of the people do matter.


Photo ©iStock.com/Cameron Strathdee

  Conversation   |   32 Comments

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Steffanie | 09.24.15 @ 16:00
They are talking of putting some in our area. Not really happy about it.
Kelley | 09.24.15 @ 16:02
I'm not sure why more areas aren't using wind power. I remember driving by some of the windmills when I was little and thinking they were so neat.
Erin | 09.24.15 @ 16:03
I like the idea, but I've heard too many negative things with sound pollution and bird kills. I would like to see more studies done before it becomes too widespread.
Tina | 09.24.15 @ 16:03
Thanks for the link to the full report. Interesting!
Christina | 09.24.15 @ 16:08
More areas need to start using wind and solar power... there is a lot of space that isn't being taken advantage of here in Texas!
Meredith L | 09.24.15 @ 16:09
I can't really speak of this because I don't live anywhere near a wind farm. There are other types of wind generating contraptions, smaller ones that individual homeowners can install which may be powerful enough to work a well pump or something....but some areas flat out refuse a permit to install them.
Elaine | 09.24.15 @ 16:09
Like Erin, I too have heard about issue with the birds. With me being a totally a bird person, this doesn't appeal to me.
Alec | 09.24.15 @ 16:10
Sadly there isn't enough wind in my local area to justify building a wind farm, but it's nice to know we are turning to cleaner and more sustainable energy.
Daniel Dohlstrom | 09.24.15 @ 16:14
Wind and other renewable energy really needs some more general acceptance. It may not always be "pretty" but can make a major impact
Christina | 09.24.15 @ 16:16
If they do expand this I hope it doesn't cost more people without jobs.
Beverly | 09.24.15 @ 16:16
I'm not sure how I feel about wind farms. On the surface they seem like a good idea, but as with everything there is always a downside. I know there is problem with birds getting killed and the noise can be a problem.
Bobbie | 09.24.15 @ 16:17
We have some of these in a very windy area and most are never running at any given time because they are always in need of repair.
trish | 09.24.15 @ 16:17
I think we are moving into the right direction with using windmills and dolor panels. With more investigation and working out the kinks some have mentioned in the comments I really think this is what needs to be done
Nancy | 09.24.15 @ 16:18
We live in a very windy area that would be perfect for wind power. Unfortunately there's a lot of opposition towards it because a lot of people find it ugly. Personally I find pollution uglier.
Kamie | 09.24.15 @ 16:20
I love wind turbines, I wish more cities with decent wind intake were for this, it could be used for emergency situations.
George Middleton | 09.24.15 @ 16:21
Where we live there is alot of mountains, and alot of coal mines that are already shuting down. I hope this don't cause more to shut down.A lot of families will be suffering.
Sara | 09.24.15 @ 16:22
I think that wind farm are kinda cool. However, not sure how better it is with sound pollution and of course birds.
Kathryn | 09.24.15 @ 16:24
They have them everywhere in Iowa, I'm honestly not to sure they really help all that much because you need a huge field of them to make any difference.
Zanna | 09.24.15 @ 16:27
Allowing the subsidies to expire and then reinstating at a later time allows them to look like they're supporting alternative energies even while they undermine them.
Britt | 09.24.15 @ 16:32
I have always believed that solar power would do wonders when it comes to environment and saving money.
Wanda Langley | 09.24.15 @ 16:41
I do not think the area that I live in would support the wind power., not windy enough.
Kaila | 09.24.15 @ 16:41
I would love to see more of these, however I would want to do more research about the sound pollution effects of them first
Sarah | 09.24.15 @ 16:42
The only time I live in an area with enough wind to warrant this type of power, is when there is something tropical in the area - as in tropical storm/depression or hurricane. Not too sure how I feel about them in all honesty though. There are pros and cons, just like in anything I suppose.
Morgan | 09.24.15 @ 16:56
We grew up in Southern California next to a whole bunch of the windmills, they are pretty cool looking.
Irene | 09.24.15 @ 16:57
I'm not sure how I feel about it but they sure look like an eye sore
Chelsey | 09.24.15 @ 16:57
I know by my hometown in the midwest they have a lot of wind turbines. I am all for looking into harnessing natural power for our energy sources.
gracie | 09.24.15 @ 17:03
I have heard about those who object to the sound and that it causes headaches and things as well as birds but in my own experience there are half a dozen maybe 1/2 a mile away and the sound is not terrible when I run by them and so far I have never seen any bird casualties and we have a thriving population of hawks and other native birds that I see daily.
Angie | 09.24.15 @ 17:07
What are all of the reasons for resistance? Is it something other than the noise and bird kill issues that I'm reading about in comments? I would think that the bird kill issue is minimal if they are put in areas away from wooded acreage and that the noise pollution problem wouldn't be one if they are put in remote areas.
Stokes | 09.24.15 @ 17:07
I love the idea of clean, renewable energy.
Heather | 09.24.15 @ 17:12
In my area more and more solar fields and wind farms are being developed. Personally I would love to have both for my own home. It would be great to be able to live off the grid.
Blake | 09.24.15 @ 17:14
I don't know anything about birds being killed or how loud these things actually are, but they sound like a good addition to our efforts to reduce pollution. I just hope they will stop holding back and finally fully implement them since they're already there and useful.
Debbie | 09.24.15 @ 21:32
We have to be willing to allow this in all areas. We polluted our world and this can help slow the pollution rate. I would rather see these everywhere than not see the sky from thick smog and pollution.
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