While wind-generated electricity continues to grow as a premier source of renewable energy in the U.S., project developers are being asked to find more efficient, cost-effective, and profitable ways to harness this resource.
In 2010, the U.S. wind industry installed 5,116 MW, a nearly 50% decrease from the previous year’s record 10,000 MW. However, much of the wind development in 2009 was initiated by momentum from 2008, when wind project developers were placing huge turbine orders in anticipation of continued exceptional growth. As the world financial markets fell in 2009, so did orders and new developments.
However, as 2010 came to a close and Congress seemed unwilling to extend the successful 1603 cash grant program, many developers chose to begin “substantial construction” on their projects in order to qualify for the grant before it was too late. The looming incentive deadline pushed the nations “Under Construction” projects to an all-time high of nearly 5,600 MW as of Dec. 31, 2010—roughly 3,000 MW of which came in the fourth quarter.
The largest project currently under construction is owned by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in Washington state. The proposed 1,432-MW Lower Snake River Wind Project is scheduled for three phases, the first of which consists of 149 Siemens 2.3-MW turbines for a total capacity of 343 MW. This facility will be PSE’s third wind project with RES Americas expecting to complete construction in 2012.
Not too far away, in Oregon, Caithness Energy is developing the Shepherd’s Flat Wind Farm. This project’s 338 GE 2.5XL turbines will provide 845 MW of wind-generating capacity to the Bonneville Power Administration’s portfolio. The project is expected to produce about 2 billion kWh’s per year and will have 35 permanent employees once operational.
Also, while not one of the larger projects under construction, another notable project is Texas’ Ralls Wind Farm owned by Ralls Corp. This 10-MW wind project will use five of the first Sany 2.0-MW wind turbines in the United States. This development expands on the growth of Chinese turbines in the U.S. market that started when Goldwind USA installed three 1.5-MW turbines in Minnesota back in 2009.
New Turbine Manufacturers
One trend that continues to pick up steam is the broad range of turbine manufacturers that developers are choosing for new projects in the United States. As mentioned above, Sany is currently in the process of installing their first 10 MW. French manufacturer Alstom Power is also joining the mix with the 19.8-MW Danielson Wind Farm. Two Korean manufacturers are making their mark too. Unison recently built their North American headquarters in Colorado and has its first installation under construction. Hyundai Heavy Industries is joining in with a 3.3-MW project in New York.
Lately, emphasis has been placed lately on the Chinese manufacturers and their central bank’s willingness to offer financing along with the purchase of a Chinese wind turbine. This arrangement has made for some competitive offers from manufacturers such as Sany Electric, Goldwind USA, A-Power, and others. However, while these manufacturers have had a competitive advantage recently, it would not be prudent to omit the current concerns regarding trade regulations and U.S. accusations concerning the Chinese government’s price subsidies for wind-power products.