As the nation enters a new year, renewable energy could play a key role in the economic and energy issues that dominate the political agenda. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes wind power growth through advocacy, communication, and education, has identified some trends and indicators to watch, including:

  • Wind Power: Second-largest Source of New U.S. Power Generating Capacity for Sixth Year in a Row? Although wind comprises only about 2% of total electricity supply, it is one of the largest sources of new power generation in the country, second only to natural gas generation in terms of new capacity built each year since 2005. Look for wind to continue to be a leading source of new power generation in 2010.
  • Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) In Jobs Legislation? The most important job creation policy that Congress can enact is a national RES, which provides the long-term certainty that companies need to invest in new facilities and train workers to make the 8,000 components that go into a modern wind turbine. The U.S. wind energy industry has seen furloughs and layoffs, and the short-term American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has provided a lifeline.
  • U.S. Wind Turbine Manufacturing and Supply Chain: Lagging or Roaring Ahead? With shop floors working single shifts or sometimes idling altogether for lack of contracts, U.S. wind turbine component manufacturing lagged in 2009. But if an RES is passed early on in the year, it will work in synergy with the short-term ARRA incentives and provide the long-term signal that companies are waiting for in order to invest in new and expanded facilities in the United States.
  • Energy Wars Flare Up: With climate and energy legislation or regulation looming, the stakes are higher than ever for the energy sector. Tighter limits on emissions reveal true cost; thus, efforts to pad climate and energy legislation with subsidies to ensure the survival of the more polluting technologies will continue. Lobbying efforts and spending could surpass the record levels reached in 2009, and anti-renewable energy communications campaigns could increase.
  • Wind Turbines Get Even More Powerful: More than 1,000 wind turbines larger than 2MW are already in commercial operation in the United States, and orders for hundreds of even larger turbines have been placed. This forecast assumes that inventory will have been exhausted and that there will be a growing market for wind turbine orders in 2010 and beyond, spurred by a national RES. The trend toward larger turbines is driven by economics: taller turbines with larger swept areas produce more power at a lower cost per kilowatt-hour.
  • States and Regional Operators Work through Transmission Issues: While federal transmission policy is under heated discussion as part of pending energy legislation, states and regions are where key decisions are made in terms of transmission investment. Texas and the Southwest Power Pool are beginning to see investment in new transmission lines and infrastructure as the fruit of favorable transmission cost allocation policies. The wind industry will be watching closely the Midwest Independent System Operator to see if it adopts a similarly favorable cost allocation policy.
  • Integrating Wind Power: As wind penetrations grow higher in the United States and Europe in 2010, utilities and grid operators should become more comfortable with this new source of power. Several major wind integration studies slated for release in 2010 are expected to add further evidence that wind can be reliably integrated with the grid at low cost.
  • Bigger Market for Small Wind Systems: Another year of record growth is expected for the small wind market in 2010 due to a federal Investment Tax Credit that has been expanded to provide an 8-yr, uncapped 30% tax credit for small wind systems for homeowners and small businesses. The introduction of an industry-safety and performance standard will also shape the industry and provide a new way to help consumers compare turbines.
  • More Clarity on Siting Process for Wind Projects: The wind energy industry is looking forward to the completion of the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee process (discussions on wind turbine siting held under the Federal Advisory Committee Act with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a broad range of stakeholders) to provide the industry with greater clarity on wildlife surveys and considerations that are expected to be part of the siting process for wind farms. To ensure the best science is available for decision-making, the industry continues cooperative research programs with the Bats & Wind Energy Cooperative, the American Wind Wildlife Institute, and other organizations.
  • Operational and Safety Guidelines: AWEA and the wind power industry are working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) toward an OSHA Alliance to promote safety and health within the wind industry. AWEA will also develop best practices and safety awareness training programs that will be available to member companies.
Source: AWEA