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Wind blows past large hydro to lead US renewable capacity

There is now more than 100GW of wind power capacity installed nationwide in 41 states, while fast-growing large solar PV ranks third among renewable power sources

Wind has overtaken large hydro as the top US installed renewable power generating source, while utility-scale solar PV has surpassed fuel oil, according to latest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) figures.

On 30 September, there was 100.85GW of wind power capacity installed in 41 states, 8.4% of the nation’s 1.2TW (terawatt) total available generation base, slightly ahead of 100.76GW of large hydro (8.39%).

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Next up for wind is nuclear with 106.33GW, or 8.86% of available installed generation capacity nationwide. The top two generation sources are natural gas, 534.77GW (44.55%) and coal, 255.91GW (21.32%), FERC reported in its September 2019 Energy Infrastructure Update.

There is about 40GW of wind capacity under construction or in advanced stages of development, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Even if 60-70% of that capacity gets built, it’s clear that wind will soon be firmly number three in US installed power generating capacity.

Wind’s ability to overtake large hydro has been driven by federal tax incentives, ongoing reduction in the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and fast growth in corporate and industrial procurement that has opened a major new market beyond traditional investor-owned utilities.

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Even though the investment tax and production tax credits sunset at the end of this year, the cost of wind power will continue to decline relative to traditional power generation sources next decade.

Among the reasons are larger turbines and related capital cost savings and lower balance of system costs; continued O&M cost reduction on the strength of advanced analytics; and financing efficiencies as there will no longer be need for more expensive tax equity with the tax credits gone.

These factors will continue to spur both onshore and offshore wind power generation capacity growth, analysts said.

Utility-scale solar PV, meanwhile, with 40GW of installed available generating capacity surpassed fuel oil, 39.85G, in September. Large PV now is 3.34% of nationwide installed capacity versus 3.32% for fuel oil.

Biomass at the end of the third quarter had 15.99GW of installations, or 1.33% of US installed capacity, and geothermal steam 3.84GW, or 0.32%. Other power sources with minor shares were waste heat, batteries, fuel cells, energy storage and fly wheels.

Proposed additions, retirements

On 30 September, the nation’s electric grid queues had 538 wind projects waiting to interconnect totaling 98.58GW; 2,666 large solar projects (94.93GW) and 222 natural gas projects (57.78GW), according to FERC.

There were also one proposed coal plant (77MW); eight nuclear (6.18GW); 12 fuel oil (685MW); 50 biomass (461MW); 18 geothermal steam (860MW), among others.

Proposed capacity retirements between October 2019 and September 2022 total 40GW led by coal (18.75GW), natural gas (11.45GW) and nuclear (5.95GW).

Units targeted for closure are generally older or those that have become too expensive to operate compared with cleaner alternatives – mainly natural gas and wind.

While President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to scrap, water down or delay implementation of his predecessor’s tougher environmental regulations for coal-fired power plants, their owners have already invested billions of dollars to comply with the main ones such as Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

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