Study shows Northwest still near top in wind energy, though development has …

April 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Oregon remains near the front of most rankings of the wind
industry, a new study shows, though development of new wind resources hit a major lull throughout
the Northwest in 2013 that shows little sign of ending.

Oregon is in the top five states in the nation in total
installed wind capacity – 3,153 megawatts nameplate – and total investment -
$6.2 billion, according to an annual report from the American Wind Energy Association. It’s also in the top 10 of total wind energy generated – 7,452
megawatts hours (enough to supply nearly 700,000 homes) and the percentage of
total generation from wind – 12.4 percent.

Washington is number nine in AWEA’s installed capacity
rankings, though wind energy’s  penetration of total state generation is only half of
Oregon’s given the relative size of its electricity market.

Indeed, two thirds of the generation capacity installed in
the Northwest between 2011 and 2013 was wind, the study found. 

Yet no new
projects were commissioned during 2013. The slowdown isn’t unusual given the
loss of the wind industry’s primary policy driver, the federal production tax
credit, which expired at the end of 2012.

Still, Congress temporarily reinstated the credit for
projects that managed to start construction by the end of the year, and the
wind industry group says there are now more megawatts of wind under
construction nationwide – 12,000 – than at any time previous.

Little of that is taking place in the Northwest, however. Only one new project started construction in 2013: PGE’s Tucannon
River wind farm, a 267 megawatt project in southeast Washington.

That’s partly because utilities here and in Washington have
satisfied early requirements under the states’ renewable energy mandates, which
require utilities in Oregon to meet 25 percent of demand with renewable power by
2025, and those in Washington to meet 15 percent of demand with
renewables by 2020.

Another big factor: California has changed its rules to bar
most imports of renewable power, so the demand for massive new turbine installations
to serve demand down south – a la Shepherds Flat in Arlington – has evaporated.

Rachel Shimshak, executive director of the renewable
advocacy group Renewable Northwest Project, said the next big opportunity for
renewable developers will come with the retirement of coal plants in the region.

“We have 2,500 average megawatts of coal plants serving the
Northwest that are already on track to retire between 2020 and 2025,” she said.
“The planning process to replace them is beginning, and that opens up a huge
opportunity for renewable power development of all kinds.”

The Northwest will need new resources, more cooperation and
more modern grid capabilities to integrate a lot more renewable power, Shimshak acknowledged. But that’s beginning to take shape, she says.

Wind’s competitiveness in replacing coal may depend heavily
on the Congress’s willingness to renew the production tax credit,
which provides 2.3 cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated
during a project’s first 10 years of operation.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, is now chair of the
powerful Senate Finance Committee, and has signaled his willingness to extend
the credit. But the effort could become a political football in the U.S. House
of Representatives. 

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