Although the wind capacity installed by the end of 2016 is estimated, in an average year, to equate to 6.4% of electricity demand in the United States, wind energy has the potential to meet even more of our country’s demand for energy (U.S. Department of Energy 2017c). In 2016, the industry took a major step forward with the commissioning of the nation’s first offshore project, the 30-MW Block Island project in Rhode Island. Another exciting development in 2017 was wind energy becoming the largest source of renewable electric capacity in the United States (and the fourth largest overall) (American Wind Energy Association 2018). Additionally, corporate and other non-utility purchases of wind energy continue to influence expansion across the country. With more than 1,500 megawatts of power purchase agreements signed in 2016 and multiple new agreements signed in 2017 by companies such as Kimberly-Clark, Google, General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, Cummins, and JP Morgan Chase, this growing market enhances the long-term installation prospects for the wind industry moving forward. Despite this growth, continued expansion of wind energy development will be required to achieve the scenarios outlined in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE)’s Wind Vision: 20% wind energy by 2030 and 35% wind energy by 2050.
Researchers at DOE’s national laboratories have conducted analyses and determined that innovation in wind technology can have consequential implications for future wind power development throughout the United States, and it can impact the broader electricity system, lower electric system and consumer costs, provide potential environmental benefits, and expand the U.S. wind workforce (Mai et al. 2017). The wind industry and the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office are addressing technical wind energy challenges, such as reducing turbine costs and increasing energy production and reliability. Turbine nameplate capacity, hub height, and rotor diameter have increased significantly. Turbines originally designed for lower wind speed sites have rapidly gained market share, and pending and proposed projects are continuing the trend of even-taller turbines as lower wind sites appear to be targeted (U.S. Department of Energy 2017c). This turbine scaling is significantly boosting wind project performance, contributing to low power sales prices. Wind power sales prices are at all-time lows, enabling economic competitiveness despite low natural gas prices. Analysts project that annual wind power capacity additions will continue for the next several years before declining, driven by the 5-year extension of the Production Tax Credit signed in December 2015 and the progressive reduction in the value of the credit over time (U.S. Department of Energy 2017c). Demand drivers also include corporate wind energy purchases and state-level renewable energy policies. At the same time, expectations for continued low natural gas prices, modest electricity demand growth, and lower near-term demand from state RPS policies put a damper on growth expectations, as do inadequate transmission infrastructure and competition from solar energy in certain regions of the country. Yet the potential for continued technological advancements and cost reductions enhance the prospects for longer-term growth, as does burgeoning corporate demand for wind energy and continued state RPS requirements. Given these diverse underlying potential trends, wind capacity additions—especially after 2020—remain deeply uncertain (U.S. Department of Energy 2017c).
Beyond these market trends, the Office also recognizes that human-use conflicts with wind energy can be challenging, depending on the proximity of proposed wind farms to local populations. As wind development expands, more information is becoming available on the local community impacts of wind deployment. However, the public and local decision-makers often cite a lack of scientifically credible information as an issue. In some cases, this information is available but not readily accessible; in others, the information is not conclusive. Where information does exist, it should be made readily available to the public in a user-friendly format. Continued and increased engagement at multiple levels will be needed given the expanding nature of the industry. In 2014, DOE established six Regional Resource Centers (RRCs) across the United States to communicate unbiased, credible information about wind energy development to stakeholders through regional networks. The RRCs serve as a platform to localize the information important to the regions they cover, provide information about potential benefits and issues in wind development, and disseminate data on wind development siting considerations such as turbine sound and wildlife habitat protection community considerations.
Each U.S. region experiences unique wind energy development challenges due to many factors: availability of wind resources and other natural resources, population density, community needs, and permitting processes resulting from the presence of local wildlife species. Continued growth of U.S. wind energy would require high-impact, regional-specific strategies that provide region-specific, unbiased information to inform communities making policy and permitting decisions on processes and improve public discourse, seeking to reduce human-use conflict around development decisions and ensuring that wind development is responsible and responsive to the American public’s needs. As a starting point to developing strategies, WINDExchange requested that the RRC representatives identify market challenges in their regions that have affected wind energy development. These issues include:
- Insufficient transmission capacity and the need for transmission improvements
- Power market conditions that limit wind development (such as small balancing areas and hour-ahead dispatching)
- Lack of local wind siting or zoning ordinances; ordinances that do not reflect best practices or do not allow the flexibility in wind development to address small, distributed, community, or utility-scale wind projects
- Grid interconnection and integration challenges and costs
- Lack of clear federal policy covering wind power-related initiatives and awareness of those policies
- Minimal past public education and engagement on wind siting issues, exacerbated by inaccurate information and negative public opinion regarding wind energy
- Lack of understanding about wind energy’s economic impacts, including local tax benefits, jobs and economic development, and turbine manufacturing
- Challenges with development on federal and native lands
- Accurate wind information not being utilized in utility integrated resource and state-based clean energy planning
- Restricted access to capital; limited financing, funding, and technical assistance for small, community, and distributed wind development.
The RRCs also identified the following issues as unique to offshore wind energy development:
- The current high costs of offshore wind energy and lack of articulated benefits describing how initial high costs for early projects can lead to reduced costs for future projects
- Minimal independent information and outreach geared toward innovative regional procurement targets, limiting the ability of projects to attract financing, investigate alternative financing mechanisms, and initiate regional supply chain development
- The fact that there are few full-scale offshore wind turbines currently deployed in the United States and therefore limited U.S.-based research about actual offshore wind development. This limited research results in inadequate information regarding the offshore wind regulatory process; technical issues related to installation, interconnection, and operation; environmental and human use impacts; and acceptance of offshore wind
- Lack of clear understanding of the regional and national market opportunity for offshore wind development.
The RRCs also identified distinct challenges unique to wind development in isolated, islanded power systems found primarily in Alaska, coastal New England, Hawaii, the Territories of the United States, and international locations. The primary development challenges include:
- The high up-front cost of deploying sophisticated wind technologies and associated hardware in an isolated, remote, or islanded area with relatively low technical and human capacity
- Excessive transportation and mobilization costs, much higher than costs for communities in other regions on the road system
- Limited ability to gain economies of scale due to the relatively small project size
- Lack of experience and extra costs of integrating wind into smaller, less flexible electric grids
- Lack of clear regulatory policy and examples that define the rules of engagement between small utilities and independent power producers that wish to develop wind energy supplied to small, typically municipal utilities
- Specific challenges relating to expanded wind integration into the Railbelt transmission system1 in Alaska (Baranowski et al. 2017).
This document summarizes the status and drivers for U.S. wind energy development in 2017. RRC leaders provided a report of wind energy development in their regions, which was combined with findings from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers to provide an account of the state of the regions, as well as updates on developments in individual states. NREL researchers and state partners added updates for all states that are not directly supported by an RRC. Accounts for each region include updates on renewable portfolio standards, workforce development, manufacturing andeconomic development, and individual state updates for installed wind capacity, ongoing policy developments, planned projects and their status, transmission progress reports, etc.
This report also highlights the efforts of the RRCs to engage stakeholders in their individual regions. The RRCs and the regions they serve are (in alphabetical order):
- Four Corners Wind Resource Center, serving Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and part of Wyoming
- Islanded Grid Resource Center, serving Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, and U.S. Virgin Islands
- Midwest Wind Energy Center, serving eastern Montana and Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
- Northeast Wind Resource Center, serving New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and New York for land-based wind, and that same region plus New Jersey for offshore wind
- Northwest Wind Resource and Action Center, serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, and part of Wyoming
- Southeast Wind Energy Resource Center, serving North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
On the national level, DOE’s WINDExchange2 initiative (managed by NREL) provides additional information to the RRCs and supports states not covered by one of these regional organizations.
In the second year of this initiative, the RRCs reported that they provided more than 95,000 key stakeholders with unbiased information about wind power. The RRCs also reported that more than 68,700 people or organizations were directly engaged by the RRCs, meaning that they entered a two-way conversation about wind energy or progressed to a point of accepting wind energy as an option to address the nation’s long-term energy needs. Engagements were typically made through events such as meetings with identified stakeholders, interactive webinars, workshops, tours, and presentations at regional conferences. Additional efforts were undertaken through outreach products such as handouts, meeting materials, and newsletters, while direct engagement with regional media organizations was also supported. More than 3.5 million people have been reached by RRC outreach efforts. More targeted efforts ensured that key stakeholders received information that allowed them to include wind technology in plans or policies that had either not included wind or that included outdated wind information.
Many notable RRC projects that may help support expanded wind development are underway. Examples include:
- In 2017, Utah counties published the first locally written resource management plans (RMPs), defining county priorities for the development and use of federal lands. With more than half of Utah’s land under the jurisdiction of federal land management agencies, federal agencies and state and county governments find these RMPs indispensable in planning and integrating the goals and policies of local jurisdictions when establishing new rules. As part of this effort, the Four Corners Wind Resource Center (4CWRC) worked with Utah county officials for more than a year to ensure that local stakeholders have the information they need to address wind energy development within the scope of their RMPs. The 4CWRC provided background on wind energy and guidance language regarding wind resources, technology advancements, and development that all of Utah’s 29 counties, as well as seven multi-county associations and the Utah Association of Counties, could use to ensure that those unfamiliar with wind energy would have current information and appropriate language to meet Utah’s renewable energy target.
- In March 2017, residents and energy leaders from Monhegan, Maine, and Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, traveled to Block Island with the Islanded Grid Resource Center and representatives from the University of Maine’s Aqua Ventus project to meet with local stakeholders and expand an ongoing dialogue among all four communities. In addition to discussions that covered aspects of offshore development, the March 2017 IGRC effort featured a multi-perspective exploration of the Block Island Wind Farm. This allowed participants to observe the turbines from the shore to understand land-based visual impacts before boarding a maintenance vessel to get an up-close view of the project, an opportunity to experience an offshore wind farm prior to the installation of proposed projects that will impact residents back home. Participants also met with the local tourism council to learn about the project’s impacts to tourism on the island.
- A Midwest Wind Energy Center principal provided testimony to the Iowa Utility Board supporting Interstate Power and Light Company’s proposal to expand its wind generation near the town of Hampton by 500 MW. This testimony helped lead to the project’s approval, and construction is slated to begin in spring 2018.
- Through the Northeast Wind Resource Center, the Clean Energy Group and its sister organization the Clean Energy States Alliance have worked with state agencies in the region on mechanisms for reducing offshore wind barriers and developing a domestic offshore wind market. In early 2015, the Clean Energy Group, Clean Energy States Alliance, and stakeholders from various Northeast states discussed the potential for cooperative action to develop offshore wind at scale to reduce costs. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, and the New York State Energy Research Development Authority agreed to collaborate to develop a roadmap for speeding offshore wind development and reducing the cost of that development. Three reports published in November 2017 are a result of this effort.
- With contributions from Northwest Wind Resource and Action Center and a multitude of RRC partners, the Oregon Department of Energy released a new report that outlines the necessary steps to foster the development of offshore wind in the Pacific Northwest. Published in May 2017, Offshore Wind in the Pacific Northwest: Strategy Recommendations3 examines the current state of offshore wind in terms of technology, regulatory practices, resource potential, and existing infrastructure.
- In 2017, the Southeastern Wind Coalition organized and led North Carolina state legislators on two tours of the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East, the first wind energy project in the state. The tours of the site near Elizabeth City, North Carolina, were meant to educate stakeholders about the project's economic benefits and potential impacts, including those to military operations as there is a Navy radar system in the region.
In states not represented by an RRC, significant developments include:
- In 2017, Texas produced more wind power in a given amount of time than ever in history. The state reached “peak wind” at 3:50 a.m. on March 23, when local wind farms produced 50% of the total electricity load of the state’s main power grid (ERCOT 2017). On March 31, wind electricity generation in Texas hit a new wind output record of 16,141 MW, representing approximately 39.5% of total electric demand (S&P Global Platts 2017).
- In December 2016, the 60-mile Elm Creek to Summit Project went online in Kansas, providing increased reliability and new wind transmission capacity between Salina and Concordia. Additionally, the proposed Grain Belt Express Clean Line will impact the ability to transmit Kansas wind energy outside of the state. If approved, the 780-mile project will deliver 4,000 MW of wind energy from the western portion of the state to Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and other neighboring states. Both projects help to address a significant barrier to wind development in the state: a lack of transmission to deliver clean energy from wind-rich areas to the demand.
- The Maryland Public Service Commission approved two proposals for offshore wind farms off the coast of Ocean City because of economic benefit to the state: approximately 9,700 jobs and $1.8 billion of in-state spending over 20 years. The Public Service Commission required project developers U.S. Wind and Deepwater Wind to build part of their supply chains in Maryland, to spend at least $76 million on steel manufacturing in Maryland, and to use ports in the state. The developers are also required to invest $40 million into Tradepoint Atlantic, a shipyard near Baltimore that was once home to Bethlehem Steel.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, as of the end of 2017, almost 29,000 MW of wind capacity are under construction or in advanced development (American Wind Energy Association 2018). In 2017, U.S. regions experienced many wind energy successes, but many challenges remain along with unanswered questions about what’s next for technology development and the opportunity for wind to be a viable energy resource responsibly harnessed across the country.