Windpower: A Stabilizing Force in an Economic Downdraft

Posted on June 3, 2009. Filed under: Climate change, Economic development, Generation Plants, Wind |

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman, Executive Director, RENEW Wisconsin:

Much to no one’s surprise, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell sharply in 2008 from previous year levels. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), which has been tracking greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, attributes the 2.8% decline to a combination of high energy prices in spring 2008 and the global economic contraction that picked up strength during the second half of the year.

This was certainly the largest year-over-year decline ever reported by the agency. However, even with 2008’s substantial decline, greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. sources have risen 16.9% since 2000. The results, which are preliminary and are likely to be adjusted this fall, can be viewed at . . .

Even the electric power sector, one of the faster-growing sources of emissions in recent years, was not spared from this trend. According to EIA, about half of the 2.1% reduction in CO2 emissions in that sector can be attributed to declining electricity output. But another contributing factor was the extraordinary growth in installed wind generation capacity last year. A record-shattering 8,500 MW of new wind projects was placed in service in 2008, capping a four-year boom that has nearly quadrupled total installed capacity in the United States.

Bucking the downturn, wind project construction has been one of the very few bright spots in the domestic economy. Nowhere was the pace of activity more feverish than in Iowa, now the No. 2 state in installed wind capacity, trailing only Texas. More than 900 utility-scale turbines started operation in 2008, doubling the state’s wind generating capacity. This year, the Iowa Policy Project expects wind energy to account for 15% of the state’s total generation. In no other state has wind energy penetration even reached double-digit figures. . . .

Last year’s frenetic construction pace is starting to ebb, however, as wholesale electric prices sink to historic lows. As declining demand for electricity exerts downward pressure on coal and natural gas prices, wind energy developers will struggle to attract financing for their projects. Right now, the signals from the power markets strongly discourage new plant construction of any type, be it wind, coal or natural gas. . . .

Between the nasty economic weather out there and the state’s pro-renewable energy policy, I expect greenhouse gas emissions here to fall even more dramatically in 2009.


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