The USA installed 1.1Gw of new wind power capacity in the first quarter of 2011. The total installed wind capacity is now 41.4Gw — producing enough electricity to power 10 million homes. A further 5.6Gw of wind power is under construction in the USA.
The states which did best in the first quarter were Minnesota (293Mw of additional capacity), Washington (252Mw), Illinois (240Mw), Idaho (119Mw), and Nebraska (81Mw). Most of the 5.6Gw under construction is in Oregon, Washington and California.
The chief economist of the American Wind Energy Association, Elizabeth Salerno, highlights the role that state governments are playing:
“States continue to lead the nation with clear, strong policies. For example, 10 years ago, California led the nation with 60 percent of U.S. wind capacity. With the recent passage of the strongest renewable target in the nation — calling for 33 percent renewables by 2020 — California is poised to retake its leadership, as it already had over 600 MW under construction in the first quarter.“
Her commendation of California is a reference to last month’s state legislation requiring California utilities to get 33% of their electricity from renewables by 2020. The previous law had required only 20%. Californian governor Brown succeeded in getting support for this measure from most of the state’s major electricity suppliers, consumer protection and labour groups (see PennEnergy: Gov. Brown signs law raising renewable energy standards for public utilities).
All the US installed wind capacity is onshore. America has plenty of space onshore, and does not have strong land use planning laws. However, it also has enormous offshore wind potential. The US Department of Energy last year published a plan calling for 54Gw of offshore wind power capacity to be installed by 2030. However, the US planning system has prevented offshore development so far. Construction work on the first US offshore wind farm, the 468Mw Cape Wind project off Massachusetts, is likely to begin this autumn, after the federal government removed the remaining obstacles. This project has been stuck in the planning system for almost a decade as it is located in Nantucket Sound and has had many objectors, including the late Senator Ted Kennedy (see businessGreen: Construction of first US offshore wind farm set for autumn).
Therefore, US federal and state governments are doing well on wind power, but most are still allowing dirty coal power. The state in the lead in the essential task of weaning itself off coal is Washington state. Its Governor, Chris Gregoire, has recently signed legislation to phase out coal-fired electricity production in that state in 2025. This followed two years of negotiations between the state government, power companies and NGOs. In 2009, Gregoire signed an executive order directing that there would be an emissions performance standard for greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 31 December 2025. In return for being allowed to sell electricity from coal for the next 14 years, the company TransAlta has agreed to give $30 million to a community investment fund to help with economic development and energy efficiency projects and $25 million to an energy technology transition fund, to be spent on supporting innovative energy technologies and companies in Washington state (see PennEnergy: Governor signs bill phasing out last of coal-fired power in Washington).
This is a good example of what politicians can achieve if they are prepared to use the stick of regulation as well as the carrots of exhortation and financial incentives.