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“Wind is the largest single source of zero-carbon power-generating capacity in the U.S.” This fact and more were revealed yesterday by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy in its 2019 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. AWEA is a proud sponsor of the report and I’m excited to share a few more of the findings with you.  

Growing fast, remaining affordable 

Wind and solar capacity have more than quadrupled since 2009 (from 36.2 GW to 164.6 GW in 2018). That’s remarkable progress to make in a decade.  

Even with record amounts of renewables on the grid, most Americans aren’t paying more for it. Consumers dedicated a record low share of their household spending to electricity (1.3 percent), according to the new report. The report also found that the U.S. has the second lowest industrial electricity prices out of the G7 nations. That gives American businesses an important competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Corporations are taking note of these low prices and are commissioning wind projects left and right. Facebook, Google and Walmart have worked together with utilities in New Mexico, Georgia and Tennessee (among others) to build new wind and solar projects. And let’s not forget how Budweiser put wind power right at the center of their Super Bowl 2019 strategy with a commercial titled “Wind Never Felt Better,” featuring Clydesdales and a dalmatian alongside wind turbines – set to the soundtrack of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” 

New aggregation models are also allowing smaller energy buyers like Etsy and Adobe to combine their demand to sign onto an individual project. This means small and large companies alike can use wind to meet their sustainability goals and save money.  

Riding on the renewable energy highway 

The Factbook shows that we are well on our way to a sustainable energy future. But our journey is far from over. To keep moving on an upward trajectory, we’ll need to bring markets and the power grid into the 21st Century. Transmission infrastructure will be essential.  

Much like America’s highways, transmission lines move a valuable product—low-cost electricity—from where it’s produced to where it’s needed on the grid. If we have road blocks and lane closures, there’s no way we can make the system reliable or efficient. That’s why we need electric transmission upgrades and investments.  

Transmission helps connect and scale up new energy technologies that benefit consumers, including renewable energy, distributed generation, energy storage and demand response, while remaining essential for traditional power sources. We can make the grid cleaner, more reliable, and lower cost with faster, smarter permitting and planning for transmission lines.  

Access the Factbook 

You can download the full report on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy website.  

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Tens of millions of Americans experienced record cold weather at the end of January as Arctic air inundated much of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. However, the power system and electricity markets worked as designed, keeping the lights (and heat) on when customers needed it most. And the value of transmission in keeping the grid reliable and affordable was on full display.

This success demonstrated how renewable energy and transmission increase the power system’s resilience to extreme events. As shown below, wind energy output (orange line) was consistently well above the level planned for by grid operators (grey line) during the period of highest electricity demand (blue line, left axis) on January 30-31 across the Midwest (MISO) and Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions (PJM). Wind output was even higher on the evening of January 29 when the Midwest experienced very high demand.

This follows wind’s large contributions during last winter’s Bomb Cyclone event, the 2014 Polar Vortex event, and a similar cold snap in Texas in 2011. It is not surprising that wind output was strong, as these events were driven by an intrusion of fast-moving Arctic air into the United States. A secondary factor is that cold air is denser than warm air, proportionally increasing wind turbine output for a given wind speed.

Solar output was also very strong in PJM during the morning peak demand periods on January 30 and 31. Specifically, PJM utility-scale solar output ramped up by around 1,000 megawatts (MW) from 7-10 AM on each of those mornings, helping to meet high electricity demand in those hours. This occurred because the semiconductors that produce electricity in solar photovoltaic panels are significantly more efficient when they are cooled by low temperatures and high wind speeds.

The value of transmission

This event and previous cold snaps also showed the value of transmission for increasing resilience and maintaining access to reliable electricity during extreme weather. On January 30, the cold air moved eastward sooner than expected, decreasing wind energy output in the Midwest but increasing it in the Great Lakes region. This higher wind output helped the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic grid operator (PJM) export in excess of 5,000 MW of power westward to the Midwest grid operator (MISO) during its time of peak demand, a reversal of the typical eastward flow of power. This shows the value of wind’s geographic diversity paired with a well-connected grid, creating a more resilient overall system.

Transmission also allowed MISO and PJM to take advantage of the diversity in their electricity demand patterns, in addition to the diversity in their wind output. PJM electricity demand was relatively low on Wednesday morning when MISO experienced its peak demand, while MISO demand was lower by Wednesday evening when PJM experienced its peak demand for the day.

Similarly, during last winter’s Bomb Cyclone, eastern PJM was more affected by extreme cold than western PJM. PJM’s large operating footprint allowed excess power supply from western PJM – including high wind output there and in MISO – to help meet demand in the east, though expanded transmission infrastructure would have provided even larger savings to PJM consumers. Because of transmission congestion, power prices per megawatt hour were consistently higher in eastern PJM (Dominion’s Virginia footprint) than western PJM (ConEd’s Illinois footprint) during the Bomb Cyclone, as shown below. Largely as a result, PJM customers incurred $900 million in transmission congestion costs in the first half of 2018, up from $285 million in the first half of 2017. Expanded transmission infrastructure would have helped alleviate some of these costs.

Last week’s extreme cold also revealed opportunities for expanding transmission in order to provide consumers with greater access to low-cost energy resources like wind. For example, when MISO and PJM experienced their highest electricity demand on the morning of January 31, the grid operator to their west (the Southwest Power Pool) had more than 9,000 MW of wind output. Similarly, electricity prices in MISO‘s South region were consistently low throughout January 30 and 31 because that area was not as affected by the extreme cold. Stronger transmission ties within MISO would have benefited consumers by providing them with greater access to low-cost electricity generation.

Onsite fuel is not a silver bullet

This year’s Polar Vortex also demonstrated why it is misguided to focus on generator attributes, like the presence of onsite fuel, when discussing grid resilience. Last week saw large contributions from resources like wind and solar that do not have onsite fuel, just as many resources with onsite fuel experienced outages. PJM has documented that power plants with onsite fuel experienced a variety of challenges during the Polar Vortex, with coal and nuclear generators accounting for nearly half of outages. A similar pattern was also observed during the 2018 Bomb Cyclone, 2014 Polar Vortex, and the 2011 ERCOT event, when generators with onsite fuel experienced widespread outages, mostly due to equipment freezing and breaking in the extreme cold. Instead of specifying characteristics like onsite fuel that are of questionable value for predicting performance, grid operators and others should focus on market-based solutions to obtain needed reliability services from all resources, with payment based on performance.

As studies by the New England and PJM grid operators have shown, wind and solar make important contributions to grid resilience and fuel diversity, particularly during extreme cold weather. For example, during this year’s Polar Vortex, wind output was consistently high in Michigan, helping to compensate for natural gas supply shortages resulting from a fire at a compressor station.

More importantly, these cold snap events show the electricity transmission and distribution systems should be the primary focus of efforts to increase electric resilience, and not power plants. Some customers did lose power in each of the last two winters’ events due to extreme cold causing localized failures on the low-voltage electricity distribution system. As demonstrated above, transmission played a critical role in allowing power to be shared within and between MISO and PJM during both events, and stronger ties could have yielded even greater savings for consumers. These events reinforce the fact that transmission and distribution infrastructure account for more than 99 percent of customer electric outages, with generation and fuel supply failures accounting for a fraction of one percent of power outages.

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More than ever, companies are looking to power their businesses using wind energy. Across the world, companies more than doubled the renewable energy contracts they signed between 2017 and 2018. And here in the U.S., 2018 was a record year for non-utility wind power deals. Altogether, non-utility buyers in the U.S. have contracted for more than 10,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy to date, more than the entire installed capacity of Iowa, the country’s number two wind state.

Why are they looking to wind? Because costs have fallen by 69 percent since 2009, wind is the cheapest source of new electricity in many parts of the country. Plus, because wind doesn’t use fuel, it’s insulated from costly and unexpected price spikes. That increases stability, an attractive quality for businesses that like to plan for the long-term.

But this isn’t just a story about business decisions. As companies power up with wind, they also create far-reaching benefits and economic development opportunities in towns across the U.S. hosting wind farms and the facilities they power.

“Iowa’s renewable energy expansion isn’t just about electricity. It’s also an important economic development tool, helping attract major technology companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft while keeping costs low for existing industries,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has explained. “We’ve found that renewable energy distinguishes Iowa from other industrialized states competing for projects. That’s why we don’t just mention wind energy on recruitment trips — we lead with it”.

It’s clear that states that make it easy to buy renewable energy have a competitive edge over others when attracting corporate investment.

What do the community benefits of non-utility wind deals look like? Case studies of wind farms with corporate investments in Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma provide good examples. We examined the following projects:

Facebook: Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project

In 2017, Facebook made a deal to purchase 320 megawatts (MW) from the Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project, owned by Enel Green Power North America Inc. in order to power its Papillion, Neb. data center. The project is largely possible because of Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) creation of a tariff that allows the corporation to purchase renewable energy, enabling Facebook to move toward its goal of powering its global operations with renewable energy by 2050. The tariff allows companies to directly source renewable energy from specific wind projects in OPPD’s service territory.

AT&T: AT&T Windstrong Energy Center Webb and Duval Counties

In 2018, AT&T signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) with NextEra Energy Resources for 300 MW of wind power from the AT&T Windstrong Energy Center in Webb and Duval Counties in Texas. This project, one of four wind farms with AT&T PPAs signed in 2018, is part of the company’s goal to enable carbon savings equivalent to ten times the footprint of its operations by 2025. While these were AT&T’s first major purchases of renewable energy, they made the company the second largest corporate purchaser of U.S. renewable energy in 2018.

Google: Minco II Wind Facility

Back in 2011, Google signed an agreement to purchase 100.8 MW of power from NextEra Energy Resources’ Minco II wind farm. The PPA is for 20 years and supplies electricity to Google’s Mayes County data center located in Pryor, Okla. This power purchase is part of Google’s initiative to power its global operations with renewable energy, a goal the company met in 2017. Google announced that one of the top reasons the company chose Mayes County as the location for its new data center was the opportunity for renewable energy procurement and suitable infrastructure.

The Benefits

Corporate purchases of wind energy are not just adding electricity to the grid in rural America, they are making investments in the local community. The case studies reviewed show the wide range of benefits, from new jobs to non-profit donations or college scholarships, that communities have seen from corporate investment.

Property Taxes

Property taxes are an important tool for renewable energy projects to benefit the surrounding community. Tax payments are often used to fund school districts, libraries, emergency services, or build roads and bridges. Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project will generate tens of millions of dollars in property taxes over the first 20 years of its existence. AT&T Windstrong Energy Center in Webb and Duval Counties is expected to pay approximately $60 million in property taxes over the project lifetime.

Landowner Payments

Because 99 percent of wind turbines are built in rural areas, landowners and farmers are taking advantage of the opportunity to lease their land and receive a steady source of income over the project contract. This can help protect the farm from fluctuations in commodity prices or poor crop yields during drought years. Turbines have minimal impact on farming practices and farming can continue nearly right to the base of the turbine. The Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project has over 100 local landowners involved in the project that will collectively receive tens of millions of dollars from the project over the first 20 years of the project life. NextEra’s Webb and Duval Counties project will pay approximately $60 million in lease payments to landowners over the project lifetime.

Employment Opportunities

Enel’s Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project created 300 jobs during the construction period and more than a dozen full-time workers. Facebook’s data center in Papillion employs more than 1,000 construction workers and expects to employ over a hundred long-term employees to operate the data center. Many of these positions have already been posted on Facebook’s data center page, and these jobs are available in the community because of Nebraska’s wind resources.

AT&T’s project is expected to create 250 jobs during construction and up to 15 full-time jobs.

As of February 2018, Google’s Mayes County data center campus employed over 400 workers. Roger Harris, on the Hardware Operations team, started as a construction worker at the Mayes County data center and later accepted an internal position with Google.

“Now I take care of the infrastructure that allows Google to do what it does,” Harris said. “I love the fact that I work for a company that truly wants to make the world a better place and make information accessible to all.”

The mayor of Pryor Creek, Jimmy Tramel also touted the employment opportunities that Google provides saying, “It will impact our economy somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $200,000 per year for the next couple of years, just based on the part-time workers and the sales tax they bring in. Moreso than anything, it brings people here to live. They are good-paying jobs…They are a huge part of the community and I mean that in every aspect”.

Community Programs

AT&T and Google’s investment in nonprofits and schools are two examples for other corporate purchasers of how to create a lasting partnership with a host community. AT&T created a Wind Energy Scholarship fund for students earning a wind energy degree or certificate at Texas State Technical College. The scholarship is open to students who are from counties in Texas that host wind farms with AT&T contracts. NextEra Energy Resources, owner of the wind farms, commits to interview graduates from the program for available technician and intern positions.

“We welcome the opportunity to educate, expose, and equip our students with dynamic skill sets stemming from the benefits of a career in renewable energy,” said Beto Gonzalez, superintendent of Webb Consolidated Independent School District. “We are grateful to both NextEra Energy Resources and AT&T for their generous contributions to establish one of the nation’s first high school wind energy programs and for creating a new and exciting career path for our students.”

Google has awarded grants to Boys and Girls Clubs of Green Country, a local Boy Scout troop, the Philbrook Museum of Art, and schools ranging from elementary to Oklahoma State University.

Environmental Impact

Wind power is a low-carbon energy source–when a wind turbine generates electricity it produces zero carbon emissions. In 2017, the electricity generated from wind turbines across the U.S. avoided an estimated 189 million tons of carbon pollution, roughly equal to 11 percent of 2017 power sector emissions. Wind also helps cut significant amounts of air pollution that creates smog and triggers asthma attacks, creating $8 billion in public health savings in 2017 alone.

Facebook’s investment in the Rattlesnake Wind Farm will help avoid about 940,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. AT&T Windstrong Energy Center will help avoid more than 888,822 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, equivalent to taking 190,326 cars off the road.

Rural communities in windy states like Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma have a distinct advantage when offering corporate purchasers opportunities to buy clean energy and fulfill sustainability goals. But as many decision makers have acknowledged, providing mechanisms for companies to buy low-cost renewable energy is key to attracting this development. That in turn will benefit local families and businesses as wind projects bring new jobs and revenue to communities across the country. That’s a win-win for everyone.

Feng Zhao joins GWEC as Strategy Director

Wind Energy expert Feng Zhao has joined GWEC as its new Strategy Director. Zhao is one of the world’s foremost experts on the wind industry, having created and provided industry leading data and advisory services first for BTM Consult, and then for FTI Consulting. His project experience includes advising on global supply chain management, market growth projection, product portfolio development, market entry & exit, regulatory and policy review, O&M, M&A and dispute support.

Feng will now bring his skills to GWEC, where he will provide both strategic direction and create new data, insights and services for GWEC members.

GWEC CEO Ben Backwell said: “We are delighted to attract someone of Feng’s calibre to GWEC. He will provide badly needed strategic insight for our members and help create all kinds of exciting new services and intelligence, as well as helping us to navigate a complex political environment.

Feng, currently located in Denmark, speaks fluent Chinese, English and Danish. As well as contributing to GWEC’s global strategy, Feng will also play a leading role in developing GWEC’s China acitivities.

Zhao said: “With China continuing to take the lead in renewable energy development, Chinese companies taking strategic positions in the international energy industry and continuing technology innovation and consolidation, this is an exciting time for the wind industry. I am looking forward to working with Ben and the team to ensure that GWEC plays a relevant and constructive role in this transformation.”

 

For more information contact:

Alyssa Pek

GWEC

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T: +32 490 56 81 39

 

Olivia Thornton

H+K Strategies

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T: +44207 413 3711