Wind Energy Sailing Across the Great Plains

On March 6, 2017, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported that Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota all sourced more than 20% of their electricity generation from wind power during 2016 based on its review of new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). In the same article, AWEA reported that 14 states produced over 10% of their electricity from wind and the overall investment in 2016 in new wind turbines exceeded $13.8 billion.  EIA’s new data showed that wind turbines generated a record total of 226 million megawatt hours during 2016 which equates to about four times the amount of solar electricity generation.  In a press release issued on February 9, 2017, AWEA noted that wind energy surpassed hydropower from dams to become the largest source of renewable electric capacity in the U.S.

In the states where Steptoe & Johnson PLLC maintains offices, Colorado leads in the category of “wind energy share of electric generation” with 17.3%, followed by Texas (12.6%), West Virginia (1.9%), Pennsylvania (1.6%) and Ohio (1.1%). Kentucky is among the states on the AWEA map that show no data.  The Division of Renewable Energy of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet explains “In general, Kentucky has low wind speeds and, therefore, limited wind energy potential. However, there may be specific sites and applications where wind is a cost-effective option.”

The uptick in wind generation stems from the development of new turbines located in rural areas. Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO explains, “For these states, and across America, wind is welcome because it means jobs, investment, and a better tomorrow for rural communities.”

One concern about renewable energy has been its accessibility to the grid, as discussed by the World Resources Institute in its June 22, 2016 blog “Corporate Demand for Renewable Energy Could Rock the Grid.”  The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located in Golden, Colorado is focused on this concern as illustrated by its proclaimed goal to “[advance] critical science and technology through innovative research and development to improve the nation’s electrical grid infrastructure, making it more flexible, reliable, resilient, secure and sustainable.”

NREL evaluated the base transmission network of the “Eastern Interconnection” which covers 2/3 of the United States and delivers power from New Mexico to Maine. NREL concluded that the Eastern Connection (which was designed primarily to carry power from fossil fuel plants) could accommodate upwards of 30% wind and solar/photovoltaic power.  Using technology partnership agreements to help it collaboratively research energy systems and technologies at its Energy Systems Integration Facility, NREL hopes to continue to find technologies to improve access to the grid.

With President Trump moving forward with scrapping President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, we can hope that increased development of energy sources and integration into power grids will continue to power America.

Stephen Smith focuses his practice on environmental and energy-related matters including regulatory counseling and litigation, administrative law, governmental affairs and lobbying. He represents clients before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. He provides client counseling and advice on compliance, permitting and agency communications as well as business transactions.
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