Wind Power Rivaling Hydropower As Clean Energy Source / by Norris McDonald

Wind power is forecast to surpass hydroelectricity for the first time as the nation’s top source of renewable electricity sometime in the next year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The sector is expected to produce 6.4 percent of utility-scale electricity in 2018, and 6.9 percent in 2019, propelled by a construction boom of new turbines across the country.

EIA: A chart from the Energy Information Administration shows the rapid growth of wind energy generation since the early 2000s.

EIA: A chart from the Energy Information Administration shows the rapid growth of wind energy generation since the early 2000s.

Few new hydropower plants are in the works, so new electricity generation depends on how much rainfall and water runoff pools in existing dams and reservoirs. Hydropower provided 7.4 percent of utility-scale generation in 2017 ― a particularly wet year ― but that figure is projected to fall to about 6.5 percent in 2018 and 6.6 percent in 2019.

The news marks a new milestone in wind’s steady rise. Wind energy usurped hydropower’s generating capacity for the first time in February 2017 as turbine installations tripled from 2008. 

The United States is projected to gain 37 gigawatts of new wind capacity between 2017 and 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The share of capacity increases each year, from 7 gigawatts in 2017 to a projected 11 gigawatts in 2020.

Part of what’s driving the boom is a rush to build turbines to get the full benefits of the production tax credit. Congress extended the subsidy, which has been in place since the early 1990s, for five years in 2015. But the credit began phasing down by 20 percent in 2017, kick-starting a dash to build as many turbines as possible before the federal benefit expires.

Yet states are expected to continue providing incentives for wind energy long after 2020. The offshore wind industry ― a popular form of energy in Europe, though currently limited in North America to five turbines off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island ― is only expected to gain steam after 2021, according to BNEF. For example, in New York, where the state plans to get half its electricity from renewables in 12 years, a series of projects off the coast of Long Island are expected to provide 2.4 gigawatts of energy by 2030, enough to power 1.25 million homes.  (Huff Post, 11/24/2018)