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Transmission investment needed to unlock US wind

The electric transmission investments proposed in the Obama administration’s stimulus plan could have a major impact on wind power development in the US, according to Emerging Energy Research (EER).

Renewables advisory firm EER has recently profiled nine of the largest transmission initiatives under development in western USA, which alone are set to unlock 57 GW of new wind power - more than tripling the existing wind power capacity in the US.

While most of these large-scale projects are not scheduled for completion until after 2015, hundreds of smaller transmission lines and grid upgrades can provide a more immediate impact on wind power development in the US.

The US wind power industry finished 2008 at a record pace with 8,358 MW installed at year-end, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). EER expects a significant decline in 2009 projects due to the curtailment of project and tax equity financing in the current economic climate. But according to EER President William Ambrose, “investments in new transmission and other renewable policy provisions being considered in the stimulus bill can go a long way towards maintaining momentum in the industry.”

EER’s high-growth wind power forecast - which factors in a national renewable portfolio standard and stepped up investment in transmission - estimates 187 GW of wind power capacity by 2020, accounting for nearly 14% of total US power consumption.

Inadequate and ageing transmission

Wind development in the United States remains constrained by an inadequate and aging transmission infrastructure that hampers the delivery of wind generated power from regions of wind-rich resource to population centers with growing clean energy demands.

None of the nine projects profiled by EER are expected to be fully operational before 2013, and the timeframe for new grid capacity is made even more uncertain as these large projects face complex permitting and siting hurdles. “Beyond investment, a significant amount of initiative is required on a Federal level to fast track permitting and siting of these projects,” says Ambrose.

With none of the large-scale transmission initiatives expected to come online between 2008 and 2012, annual growth in the US wind market may stall at 8-9 GW per year, according to EER. “The inability of transmission build-out to keep pace with wind project development activity will increasingly constrain the growth of the US wind power market in the near-term,” says EER senior wind analyst Matthew Kaplan.

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Energy infrastructure  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power