By Bill Opalka, Guest Contributor
Renewable energy generation grabbed a 46% share of new capacity in the first 10 months of the year, easily outpacing natural gas, coal, nuclear and oil.
That’s according to the latest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Energy Infrastructure update, which covers the January-October time frame. The 46% renewable share includes new wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and fuel cell capacity. Renewables were responsible for 41% of new capacity in October.
That’s good news for renewable energy, as it continues to vie with natural gas as the leader for new capacity additions. In fact, renewable leads the fuel du jour for the year, natural gas, which added 57 projects, or about 5,702 MW, or slightly less than 38 percent of new capacity. Three coal projects – that’s right, coal — added 2,276 MW, or about 15 percent of the total.
All renewable sources added 361 projects for a cumulative capacity of 6,979 MW. That includes 92 wind farms, 167 solar projects, 79 biomass, seven geothermal and nine water power projects.
An examination of the report requires a rather large caveat, as new wind generation topped clean energy development in 2012, at 5,403 MW so far. That’s because the expiring production tax credit forces wind developers to rush projects to completion before Dec. 31.The high total says as much about problematic and inconsistent policy as it does about fuel choice.
The percentage of renewables will certainly rise in the next monthly reports, as wind installations historically have been back-loaded in the fourth quarter, as demonstrated by American Wind Energy Association reports. For the year, AWEA expects about 11 to 12 gigawatts will be added, easily surpassing the 2009 record of 10 gigawatts.
That means as much wind capacity will go online in November and December as was installed in the previous 10 months. So the final infrastructure report for the year could show an even bigger share of renewables for the year. Put another way: four of every five MW of clean energy generation added so far this year was at a wind farm; the majority of ALL new generation from every source in the final two months of 2012 will come from wind.
The largest wind project in October was the Limon I and Limon II, a pair of 200-MW sites in Colorado built by NextEra Energy Resources for Xcel Energy (photo). For the record, national capacity leader NextEra will set a high-water mark for the industry with about 1,500 MW completed this year, while already saying it will drop to close to zero in 2013 without the PTC.
Even if the PTC is extended by a lame duck Congress this month or early in the 2013 session, new wind capacity is widely expected to fall by at least one-half. Ramping up idled projects and restarting closed or scaled-back manufacturing capacity is just too big of a hurdle. That means less wind will be built in all of 2013 than in the first three quarters or so of 2012. And that’s the optimistic scenario.