Wind power in America is booming — but not by enough to reach the Department of Energy's goal of getting 20 percent of U.S. electricity from wind by 2030. So finds a new progress report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
A little over a year ago, the DOE released a heralded research report, "20% Wind Energy by 2030", in which it determined that the U.S. could achieve a 20 percent wind scenario in just two decades with no technology breakthroughs needed. That would be up from about 1 percent today.
The benefits would be huge. A half a million new American jobs. Twenty-five percent fewer carbon emissions from electricity generation. Four trillion gallons of water saved.
Not surprisingly, the DOE report generated widespread publicity and applause. But what of actual progress? Average, says the AWEA in its new "20% Wind Report Card."
The problem is, that so-so rating may be heading south fast.
"The U.S. gets a solid 'B' for its 2008 progress toward reaching 20% of electricity supply from wind energy by 2030, but could be 'at the high-water mark' for wind without a strong and immediate national policy commitment to renewable energy," AWEA said.
Wind installations smashed all records in 2008 and accounted for a sizable 40 percent of the nation's new generating capacity.
The numbers are pretty staggering: 8,500-plus MW of new wind were brought online, which increased America's cumulative wind power total by 50 percent to over 25,300 MW in a single year. That's 160 percent higher than what the DOE demanded under its 20 percent wind scenario. The agency had called for annual installations of just 3,260 MW in 2008.
In 2009, new wind growth looks "somewhat strong," especially when you consider the nation's recessionary woes. Over 5,000 MW of new capacity will be commissioned in 2009, the AWEA predicts. That amount is still 20 percent more than the 4,180 MW required for 2009 and 2010 under the DOE vision.
The early part of the next decade, though, could see a big dip in wind installations. And,
"if installation rates do not revert quickly back to 2008 levels, the U.S. could fall behind the trajectory to its goal," the authors warn.
New wind farms are only part of America's wind story.
And so, the report card examined progress in four key areas: technology development, manufacturing, siting and transmission and integration. The B grade is the average of each of these sector's scores.
Transmission was the worst of the bunch, earning an insufficient C-. That's a problem. Without the ability to deliver wind-generated electricity to market, new turbines are almost pointless.
On technology, the U.S. earned an A-. The reasons are plenty: Turbine capacity factor and performance continued to improve as turbine size and tower height steadily increased. Research and development funding got a boost. And the Obama administration committed to developing offshore turbines.
U.S. wind manufacturing scored a B+. And siting earned a B.
The AWEA did not grade progress on national policies that are needed to promote a massive wind boom because they were not covered in the DOE's report. However, AWEA is crystal clear about one vital measure that's sorely lacking: a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).
Putting America on track to reaching the 20 percent wind by 2030 target will require an RES that forces utilities across the country to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. The key? Aggressive near-term targets.
"A strong RES is essential to give businesses the certainty they need to invest in factories in the U.S. and create new jobs," said AWEA Senior Vice President-Public Policy Rob Gramlich.
What are the odds of that happening?
A 25 percent-by-2025 RES was part of the original draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Importantly, the draft contained multiple incremental benchmarks leading up to 2025, beginning with a 6 percent requirement by 2012. But quickly the standard was weakened to 20 percent by 2020. And by the time it squeaked through the House on June 28, there were loopholes allowing states to get away with as little as 12 percent or less.
If a strong RES does not pass Congress, the fear is that the DOE's achievable 20 percent by 2030 wind goal will fall by the wayside, and with it the chance at hundreds of thousands of green jobs in the world's increasingly competitive clean energy economy.
In May, a group of major wind energy companies sent a letter to key members of Congress, urging them to enact a stable and rigorous RES or risk losing the wind manufacturing industry to Asia and Europe. They wrote:
America is competing for renewable energy manufacturing jobs with 37 other countries, including China, that have firm renewable electricity commitments in place. Now is the time for bold leadership to secure these jobs for the U.S.
The letter was signed by representatives of GE Energy, Vestas Americas, Gamesa, NRG Systems, REPower USA, Broadwind Energy, TPI Composites, PPG Industries, Clipper Windpower and AWEA.
AWEA CEO Denise Bode drives the important point home:
"We urgently need a strong RES to remain competitive with Europe and China, both of which have strong and binding renewable energy commitments, in the race to secure those jobs.
"With a strong RES in place, we can continue to lead the world's new energy economy, keep jobs and investment right here in the U.S. and demonstrate our commitment to solving global climate change."