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U.S. Wind Power Breezes Past 70 Gigawatts

By on December 29, 2015

U.S. wind power just passed the 70 gigawatt (GW) mark, meaning enough wind turbine capacity is now installed to supply over 19 million typical homes with low-cost electricity.

The announcement comes as political leaders from around the world, including the U.S., reached a historic agreement this month to reduce carbon pollution, further increasing the demand for zero-emission wind energy.

“This American wind power success story just gets better. There’s now enough wind power installed to meet the equivalent of total electricity demand in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

AWEA is a national trade association of the wind energy industry, with one of the world’s largest wind power trade show, the AWEA WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition, which takes place next in New Orleans, LA, May 23-26, 2016.

The wind power milestone was achieved in November. Achieving it, AWEA says, means there’s now enough wind power installed in the U.S. to light the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree for over 440,000 years. “Said another way, each year the U.S. generates enough electricity to drive 26 million electric cars around the world.”

Wind power crossed the 50 GW and 60 GW thresholds in 2012, as developers rushed to complete projects before the expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC). The subsequent policy uncertainty in 2013 derailed that momentum, and wind energy installations declined by 92 percent that year. Recent extensions have resulted in a near-record amount of construction now underway across the U.S.

The U.S. Congress just passed a multi-year extension of the performance-based PTC and alternative Investment Tax Credit as part of the government spending bill, securing the predictable business environment needed to keep U.S. factories open and further scale up wind power. Previous short-term extensions of the wind tax incentives helped spur a near-record of more than 13,250 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity currently under construction in the U.S., with an additional 4,100 MW in advanced stages of development. This year’s multi-year extension is expected to add to that number.

There are currently over 50,000 operating wind turbines in the U.S., at more than 980 utility-scale wind farms across 40 states and Puerto Rico. Wind power began this year with a capacity of 65,877 MW, with 956 utility-scale wind projects in 39 states and Puerto Rico, and continues to add more this month, which will push the 2015 total well above the 70,000 MW (70 GW) announced last week.

Once North Carolina completes construction of its first utility-scale wind farm, the project will be the largest in the Southeast, and will bring the number of U.S. states with a commercial-scale wind farm to 41.

According to AWEA, the cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen 66 percent in six years. By locking in long-term contracts with wind developers, electric utilities can protect ratepayers from future fuel price shocks. A recent study by the Energy Information Administration found that wind energy consistently emerged as the most cost-effective method of reducing emissions, supplying 57 percent of the additional energy in the lowest-cost compliance solution for the Clean Power Plan.

The Department of Energy’s recent Wind Vision report says U.S. wind energy is poised to double from nearly five percent of U.S. electricity today to 10 percent by 2020, and double again to 20 percent by 2030. The report found that hitting that target could create 380,000 U.S. jobs.

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