WINDPOWER 2015 Presents Great Opportunities for the South

This blog is the third in a series from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy staff attending the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER 2015 Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida. 

Simon Mahan, Renewable Energy Manager at SACE, speaks about the opportunities for wind energy in the Southeast.

There has been a lot of chatter at WINDPOWER this year about the Southeast’s potential for wind energy development with taller towers and longer blades. Yesterday at WINDPOWER, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz spoke to this potential in his presentation while the Department of Energy concurrently released its report Enabling Wind Power Nationwide, which again made the case for the South’s wind potential.

SACE Renewable Energy Manager, Simon Mahan, further developed the case for wind in the South today through presentations on a panel and at the poster session.

Here are some of the highlights:

Most southern states have three or four opportunities to incorporate wind power into their energy portfolio. States can either develop wind energy in-state, purchase wind energy via existing transmission routes, purchase wind energy via new high voltage direct current transmission projects, or develop wind energy offshore. Each different source of wind power has unique cost and performance attributes.

Coal-Fired Power Plant Retirements are Increasing

As much of the country experiences a slowdown in electricity demand growth, the South is expected to need substantial quantities of new generation over the next decade. Retiring coal-fired power plants (and to a lesser extent, older gas steam turbine facilities) are driving additional demand for new power sources within the region.

New Turbine Technology is Improving

Making the case for wind energy in the Southeast.

The South has historically been a marginal market for the wind industry; however, with newer turbine technology, wind farm proposals have developed in every state within the region. Taller towers with longer blades are now capable of harnessing the region’s wind energy resources. New research from the National Renewable Energy Lab shows the South now contains over 1,500 Gigawatts of onshore, in-region wind energy potential.

Utility Purchases of Wind Energy are Increasing

Over 3,000 megawatts of wind power purchase agreements have been made with utilities across the South. Most of these purchases have been made voluntarily. Utilities are making these wind energy purchases because they lower the costs for their customers.

Most of purchases are from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) or the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). Clean Line Energy Partners and Pattern Energy have proposed two separate High Voltage Direct Current Transmission projects that would connect gigawatts worth of wind energy from Oklahoma and Texas to Southern states.

Wind Energy Costs are Declining

Over the past decade, the levelized cost of energy from wind power has declined substantially. New figures from both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Lazard Associates show that current power purchase agreement prices have reached between $22-$60 per megawatt hour, depending on region, technology and contract attributes. While the best wind energy resources can provide extremely low cost power, even moderate wind speeds available throughout the South are now capable of providing cost competitive energy.

As turbine prices continue to decline, and performance continues to improve, expect that the South will become the next frontier for the wind energy industry.

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