The wind energy industry expected a lull in 2013 – and they got one – but that won’t happen again this year.
The number of new wind farms built nationally dropped like a rock from more than 13,000 megawatts in 2012 – the biggest year ever – to about 1,000, as developers paused in the face of political wrangling over federal subsidies, according to the American Wind Energy Association U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report for the year ending in 2013.
In Kansas, developers built 1,441 megawatts in 2012, but just 250 in 2013. That wind farm, Buffalo Dunes Wind Project in Finney County, was enough to put Kansas second in the nation.
Officials with AWEA officially unveiled their annual report Thursday morning at Lenexa-based TradeWind Energy, the developer of Buffalo Dunes in southwest Kansas.
Congress eventually agreed to extend the subsidy, the Production Tax Credit, so, like a yo-yo tied to the finger of federal policymakers, wind energy projects will snap back to a huge 2014. AWEA counts about 12,000 megawatts of projects announced and about half that again likely left to be announced.
Kansas will see some of that, with four projects totaling 725 megawatts under construction and the possibility of more being announced in coming months.
This may also be giving Kansas a glimpse of the future. Texas, already the country’s top wind energy producing state, has well over 6,000 megawatts of projects under construction.
Liz Salerno, vice president of Industry Data & Analysis for AWEA, said Texas wind developers are responding to a just-completed expansion of power transmission lines from west Texas to cities in the central and eastern parts of the state.
The price of wind energy competes fairly well with natural gas, she said, depending on where the wind farm is. And just as importantly, utilities are interested in locking in the contract price for power for 20 years.
Kansas is undergoing a similar upgrading of transmission capacity in western Kansas. The high-capacity V-plan power line from near Dodge City to Wichita is under construction and is scheduled to start carrying electricity by the end of the year. It is being built partly to carry wind energy and partly to improve the functioning of the existing electrical grid.
Clean Line Energy is building a privately funded transmission line called the Grain Belt Express to transmit 3,500 megawatts of wind energy to states farther east. In January, Clean Line said it wanted to see how much interest the project had from developers.
The company said its research showed that developers were interested in building 13,500 megawatts of wind farms in southwest Kansas, far outstripping capacity.
Existing power lines in western Kansas are maxed out, and even adding capacity won’t meet demand, said Mark Lawlor, developer director for Clean Line, based in Houston.
“This line as built just kind of scratches the surface of the amount of interest,” he said.