The news has been remarkably good for an industry on the verge of collapse.
In Oregon, Caithness Energy’s 845-megawatt Shepherds Flat Wind Farm, the second-biggest land-based wind project ever built, went on-line.
The five biggest U.S. projects are: (1) Alta Wind Project in California (Terra Gen, 981 megawatts), (2) Shepherds Flat in Oregon (Caithness Energy, 845 megawatts), (3) Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas (E.ON Climate & Renewables (FRA:EOAN), 781.5 megawatts), (4) Horse Hollow in Texas (NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE), 735.5 megawatts), and (5) Capricorn Ridge in Texas (NextEra Energy, 662.5 megawatts).
In Northern California, EDF Renewable Energy (EPA:EDF) completed the replacement of 235 Kenetech 100-kW turbines originally installed in 1989 with 50 REpower (ETR:RPW) 2.05-megawatt turbines at its Shiloh Four wind project. This repowering turned a 23.5-megawatt project into a 102.5-megawatt project with quieter, higher-capacity-factor, more wildlife-friendly machines that spread across the landscape in a more aesthetically acceptable way.
The wind industry has not convinced Congress to extend its vital 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour production tax credit (PTC). The incentive expires December 31, after driving impressive growth over the last three years despite the recession.
Most industry leaders expect Congress to act after the November election -- but not before. Manufacturing wind turbines and planning wind projects, however, require twelve- to eighteen-month lead times. 2013 is lost. Siemens (NYSE:SI), Vestas (PINK:VWDRY), Clipper (LON:CWP) and other manufacturers have begun plant closures and layoffs. Blade and tower manufacturers and others in the supply chain have laid people off, closed down and sold out.
A Navigant Consulting study found that a four-year extension of the PTC would generate 95,000 wind-supported jobs and $16.3 billion in investment by 2016. Ending it could cost over 37,000 domestic jobs and $10 billion in investment next year.
A coalition of nineteen companies, including major consumer brands (Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss, Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO)) and Fortune 500 firms (Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Sprint (NYSE:S), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)) signed on to a letter calling for Congress to act.
Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, comprised of 240 local Chambers of Commerce from 47 states, also wrote a letter.
Google just announced the purchase of more wind power to supply its Oklahoma data centers, bringing its wind project investments to over 1,200 megawatts. And MidAmerican Wind, a Warren Buffet-owned MidAmerican Energy Holdings (NYSE:BRK.A) subsidiary, just bought two more wind projects in California, bringing Mid-American’s built and/or owned wind engagement to over 3,300 megawatts.
A new report from Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. found wind uses about 77 gallons of water per megawatt-hour, thereby substantiating the wind industry claim that the cumulative 47 gigawatts of wind installed in the U.S. by the end of 2011 will conserve over 27 billion gallons of water every year that would otherwise be used by conventional power plants.
Nuclear plant closed-loop cooling systems, 62 percent of the U.S. nuclear fleet, use 700 gallons to 1,100 gallons of water per megawatt-hour, most of which is lost to evaporation. Open-loop cooled nuclear plants require 25,000 gallons to 60,000 gallons per megawatt-hour, most returned at higher temperature and lower quality.
Closed-loop coal plants, the study reported, use and lose to evaporation 500 gallons to 600 gallons per megawatt-hour. Open-loop coal uses, and returns at higher temperature and lower quality, 20,000 gallons to 50,000 gallons per megawatt-hour.
PV solar plants, the study reported, only require water for panel washing, 520 gallons per megawatt-hour for crystalline-Si and 225 gallons per megawatt-hour for CdTe thin film. Towers with wet cooling use 800 gallons per megawatt-hour and towers with dry cooling use 80 gallons per megawatt-hour. Trough plants with wet cooling use 1,240 gallons per megawatt-hour and troughs with dry cooling use 290 gallons per megawatt-hour.
Finally, the newly constituted Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition has taken up the purpose of getting wind built on and off the Virginia, Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida Atlantic shores.
The coalition’s formation in the so far unexploited region heralds just emerging manufacturing and installation technologies that will allow the making and erecting of turbines at more economic prices. It also heralds the expanded use of new turbine technologies from GE (NYSE:GE) and Siemens that can turn slower and more common wind speeds into affordable electricity.
A strong concern is whether Congress will give a new PTC when it finally gets to the job. Barring the November election producing a political change, the four-year extension is a pipe dream.
A three-year extension, like that granted in 2009, would give the industry time to recover from next year’s inevitable collapse.
The more traditional one- or two-year extension could be just long enough to leave the industry, at the end of 2014, stuck in political limbo with elections looming again.