On a Roll: Wind Energy

Whenever I’m at a party and someone hears that I work at a utility they usually begin grilling me on wind. Why doesn’t it make up a bigger portion of our energy mix? Why aren’t we doing more? Don’t you guys care about the environment? Whoah! By this time I feel like I’m in the ring with Mike Tyson during his prime.

I usually respond that we (and the industry) have taken steps to make wind a larger part of our energy mix. In the past five years alone we’ve doubled the amount of wind power on our system (from 1,323 MW in 2006 to nearly 3,500 MW today).

In mid-May the Upper Midwest formerly welcomed a new wind farm into the fold. The Nobles Wind Farm features 134 turbines that have been contributing 201 MW of wind energy since its soft launch last December. This new southwestern Minnesota wind farm can generate enough electricity to serve about 66,500 homes.

Yes, the world of wind energy is on quite a roll. At the end of April, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced that America’s wind power industry installed 1,100 MW of new capacity in the first quarter of 2011 alone and entered the second quarter with another 5,600 MW under construction.

“American wind energy is ramping up, and these first-quarter figures indicate an industry poised for a renaissance,” said Denise Bode, AWEA CEO. “Refined technologies, affordable prices, and continued demand for clean, homegrown energy—these are all reasons why wind has consistently posted strong growth numbers, adding 35 percent of all new generating capacity since 2007.”

Can we keep up this pace? We can only hope as America moves to secure renewables a bigger seat at the table. (It will allow me to have a better time at future parties, too.)

It is not a horserace but it is interesting to look at where all of this wind power development is located. The first quarter’s 1,100 MW of new capacity came online in 12 different states. The states with the most capacity additions include: Minnesota (293 MW), Illinois (240 MW), Washington (151 MW), Idaho (119 MW) and Nebraska (81 MW). While three out of these are in the Midwest, the west coast is the current leader in wind project activity, according to AWEA. A third of project under construction are in California, Oregon and Washington.

AWEA reports that the under-construction figure of 5,600 MW is nearly twice the megawatts that the industry reported at this time in both 2009 and 2010. Furthermore, the total wind fleet now stands at 41,400 MW—producing enough clean energy to supply 10 million American homes.

Article by Dan Hauser, appearing courtesy Xcel Energy Blog.

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