AWEA Conference Reflects Record U.S. Wind Capacity Installation

Issue 7 and Volume 106.

This year’s annual conference of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) was the biggest ever, doubling last year’s record attendance with more than 2,350 persons attending WindPower 2002 in Portland, Ore.

The year 2001 saw almost 1,700 MW of new wind capacity installed in the U.S., equaling 66 percent of all U.S. capacity in place the previous year and bringing the current U.S. total to 4,265 MW.

New players making their debut at the exhibition included GE Wind Energy and Shell WindEnergy. GE Wind Energy is the new subsidiary of GE Power Systems, which recently acquired the manufacturing capability of Enron Wind Corp., the largest U.S. utility-scale wind turbine manufacturer. Shell WindEnergy, Inc., a subsidiary of Shell, has purchased an 80-MW wind plant near Amarillo, Tex., and a 41-MW facility in southern California, owns a 50-MW wind project in Wyoming, and is developing or operating more than 1,000 MW of wind in the U.S. and Europe.

“2001 was an astonishing year for our industry,” said AWEA executive director Randal Swisher. “More new wind generation was installed in a single state – 915 MW in Texas – than had ever been installed before in the entire country in a single year. We are finally beginning to tap into wind energy’s enormous potential.” Swisher noted more than 6,500 MW of new capacity was installed worldwide last year, representing a 30 percent annual growth over the past five years. He also said the AWEA believes that the current growth suggests that by the year 2020, wind could very easily account for 6 percent of U.S. generation with 100,000 MW of installed capacity. Wind currently represents 0.3 percent of U.S. generation.

Two of President Bush’s top energy advisers extolled the potential for wind power as speakers during the meeting’s opening session.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Patrick Wood III told the gathering how his home state of Texas, with a wind generation capacity of 1,095 MW as of last year, now represents almost a quarter of American wind power capability. He told the group they need to care about wholesale markets and the issues affecting them. Referring to several states, including Texas, that laid the groundwork for retail deregulation by establishing vibrant wholesale markets, Wood said, “A good competitive wholesale market will save money for customers and reduce the likelihood of energy shortages, and, quite frankly, will give you the option to sell your product.”

Assistant U.S. Energy Secretary David Garman vowed the Bush administration will make every effort to tap a “completely clean and essentially limitless” form of energy. Although Bush’s national energy plan calls for new domestic oil and gas exploration, most notably in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Garman said more than half of the plan’s recommendations pertain to energy efficiency and development of renewable sources.

“Anyone who actually reads the president’s plan appreciates its balance,” Garman said. “And by his very presence here today, Pat Wood is saying that wind is a critically important technology and that we have to get the rules right. We have to be sure that the difficulties with interconnection and transmission access do not prevent wind generation from reaching its full potential, and we look forward to working with FERC whatever way we can.”

Steven Zwolinski, president of GE Wind Energy, predicted strong, double digit growth to continue over the next several years in the wind power industry, with much of the focus on Europe and the Americas. He said that the wind power technology acquired by GE has a proven track record of cost-effective performance in both on-shore and off-shore applications.

The company’s largest machine to date, a 3.2 MW system, is currently undergoing prototype testing in Spain. He expects continuing development of larger and more efficient wind power systems will make the technology even more cost-competitive. Zwolinski also underscored GE’s long-term commitment to wind power technology expressing optimism that synergies from several GE businesses can provide the global wind industry with expanded expertise and capabilities and ultimately, higher value solutions.