With the first three quarters of 2016 now in the books, it’s time to pause and take stock of where things stand. Here’s what I see: a homegrown industry achieving milestones that seemed far-fetched just a few years ago.
Wind becomes vital to state electricity mixes
The biggest news so far this year is that Iowa has set yet another wind power record: it generated over 35 percent of its electricity using wind from August 2015 through August 2016, the most recent month with available data. That makes Iowa the first state to generate over a third of its electricity using wind.
And more is on the way. Large new projects from companies like MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy may push Iowa past 40 percent wind-generated electricity.
Iowa isn’t alone in its wind power growth. Over the same August 2015 to August 2016 time frame, Oklahoma joined Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota as states generating at least 20 percent of their electricity using wind, while North Dakota finished just a hair short.
At present, there are over 20,000 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity either under construction or in advanced development. To fully grasp the significance of that number, the current U.S. wind fleet stands at 75,716 MW, which is enough to power 20 million typical American homes.
More wind projects are also in the pipeline. So far this year, the volume of megawatts contracted through power purchase agreements (PPAs) are up 39 percent over the same point in time last year, and a third of the megawatts to date have been signed by non-utility buyers like Johnson & Johnson, Amazon and Target.
That means more low-cost, clean wind power will soon be available to millions of U.S. families and businesses, and it will help them keep more money in their pockets. For example, Iowa has the ninth lowest electricity rates in the country, sitting 36 percent below the national average. And Iowans could save $500 million on their electric bills by continuing to grow wind in their state, according to a recent report.
Wind growth means resource growth
All of this wind development is bringing new financial resources to communities across the country, and it’s often going to areas where it’s needed the most.
In Iowa, wind has created $12 billion of private investment, supports up to 7,000 jobs and pays landowners between $15 and $20 million every year for hosting turbines on their property. And more than two-thirds of the operating installed capacity is located in low-income counties. Numbers like these are why some have dubbed wind “the new corn” for America’s agricultural community.
One thing we can all agree on
With these sorts of benefits, it’s not surprising that polls find Americans of all stripes support wind energy growth. One recent poll found over 90 percent of likely voters support increasing the nation’s share of wind power, and that includes over 80 percent of self-described conservatives.
And despite their geographical and cultural diversity, results are similar from New York to Texas. A Nature Conservancy poll found 89 percent of New Yorkers wanted more wind energy, while another survey found support for wind among 85 percent of respondents in Texas. And then there’s Iowa, where residents know as much about wind as anyone, given the Hawkeye State has the most wind by land area of any state in the country. Over 90 percent of respondents in a survey of Third District residents support wind energy. These are truly remarkable results in today’s day and age.
Challenges do remain on the road ahead, chief among them making sure we build the necessary transmission and grid updates to give more Americans access to clean, low-cost power. Studies show these efforts more than pay for themselves and provide numerous benefits to the grid.
American wind power is healthy and on track for another highly successful year heading into 2016’s final quarter, and that’s something we can all be proud of.