While wind power has been growing by leaps and bounds — a record 45 percent last year — and is on track to set a new record this year with 1,400 megawatts of capacity installed in the first quarter, the Department of Energy thinks we can do better. Much better. In a matter-of-factly entitled report, “20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply,” the DOE concludes that 20 percent of America’s energy needs could be met by wind power by 2030 if the challenges outlined in the report are addressed.
The report estimates that more than 300 gigawatts of wind power capacity would be needed by 2030, up substantially from today’s 17 gigawatts. The DOE estimates that the wind industry will be able to add 16 gigawatts of capacity a year and do so sooner than needed to hit the trajectories outlined in the report. But significant challenges in regulation, transmission, technology, manufacturing and siting must be addressed.
By increasing wind’s percentage of the energy supply to 20 percent, the DOE estimates carbon emissions will be cut by 25 percent and some 4 trillion gallons of water will be saved. The report also confirms the benefits a growing wind industry would provide to the domestic economy: Wind energy would pump more than $1.5 billion into local communities and support some 500,000 employees, 150,000 employed directly by the wind industry by 2030.
High on the report’s list of challenges is renewal of the Production Tax Credit, set to expire at the end of this year. Already the industry is coming out on behalf of the report, which urges renewal of the PTC. “Through sustained industry commitment and the strengthening of supportive policies like the production tax credit (PTC) and Renewable Portfolio Standards, wind can become a mainstream power source and an engine for economic growth,” GE’s Vice President-Renewables Victor Abate said in a statement.
Transmission line issues are another serious impediment. Amid the uncertainty of widespread deregulation in the 1990s, investment in transmission lines dipped below $3 billion a year. While investment has rebounded to nearly $8 billion in 2007, the report says “a new transmission superhighway would be required.” More than 12,000 miles of new transmission lines will have to be built, at an estimated cost of $20 billion in net present value terms.
Utilities are already moving to secure transmission lines for future wind projects. Minnesota Power recently purchased a major transmission line in North Dakota and is phasing out a long-term contract to buy coal-based power currently transmitted on those wires. The deal would be for $80 million and facilitate the installation of several hundred megawatts of wind power capacity near Center, N.D.
The 248-page report, with a five-page abbreviation and acronym guide, is available at 20PercentWind.org.