BigWind barriers may slow growth in the USA

The output of DOE’s models are easy to promote but reality paints a very different picture. DOE’s Vision assumes 7 GW of wind built per year between 2014 and 2020, followed by 12 gigawatts per year between 2020 and 2030, and 17 GW every year after until 2050. The Agency points to the progress since 2009 as proof that a more aggressive wind roll-out is possible. But in many ways, the success of U.S. wind in those years is the very reason wind development will not grow, but continue to slow….

But not so fast!…

DOE’s Enabling report does a reasonable job explaining the physical constraints of transporting larger turbine parts. Blades longer than 53 m (174 feet) are at the limit for road corners and curves. Overhead obstructions limit tower sections to no more than 4.6 meters in diameter (15 feet) on roads and 4 meters (13 feet) for rail. Alternate road routes may be found but generally have weight limits that restrict access.

Moving to segmented blades could help the transport issues, as would using concrete towers that can be manufactured on site but these carry their own set of issues. DOE suggests that it serve as the research arm — and funder — for new wind technology. After all, such projects “are usually low in terms of technology readiness level making them generally beyond the scope of existing industry,” writes the DOE. This is another wind power cost that’s rarely debated.

Other Barriers Stalling Wind

There are a multitude of barriers to achieving wider geographic development of wind in the US aside from those already cited.

Mandates. When the cash grant program was in effect, we saw a massive build-out of wind resulting in a number of states meeting or coming close to satisfying their renewable energy mandates. Michigan’s RPS expires this year as does New York’s. Kansas and Texas met their mandates and other states, including Ohio and North Carolina, are reevaluating their laws. West Virginia, meanwhile, has repealed it’s RPS altogether.

Economics. Fewer utilities are signing contracts for wind and we are seeing a shift to corporate contracts for wind including IKEA and Microsoft. The economics of wind are worse today with low natural gas prices. Utilities are not as willing to sign above-market contracts which is putting pressure on developers to drop costs and keep profits up. This means building mainly in states where the permit rules are not onerous and where the wind regime assures more production tax credits. Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa are obvious fits. It’s no surprise that several approved projects in Minnesota (here and here) had their permits revoked for failing to find a buyer.

Opposition. Resistance to turbine projects is becoming more strident and it’s growing even in states presumed to be wind friendly (see: North DakotaNebraska and Texas).

Conclusion

The output of DOE’s models are easy to promote but reality paints a very different picture. DOE’s Vision assumes 7 GW of wind built per year between 2014 and 2020, followed by 12 gigawatts per year between 2020 and 2030, and 17 GW every year after until 2050. The Agency points to the progress since 2009 as proof that a more aggressive wind roll-out is possible. But in many ways, the success of U.S. wind in those years is the very reason wind development will not grow, but continue to slow.

WindAction | Big Winds Big Barriers.

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