Wind energy construction rebounds across U.S., Texas

Wind turbines and oil pumpjack in action Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, north of Stanton, Texas. (James Durbin/Reporter-Telegram)
A cluster of wind turbines in West Texas. (James Durbin/Reporter-Telegram)

Wind turbine construction in the United States has rebounded to its highest level in three years, according to a report Tuesday by the American Wind Energy Association.

More than 8,500 megawatts of wind power capacity was built last year, almost double the 2014 tally. More than 3,600 megawatts of that construction was in Texas, which now counts almost a quarter of the country’s wind energy supply.

Michael Goggin, senior director of research at AWEA, attributed the sudden rise in construction to uncertainty in 2014 around the future of a federal tax credit for renewable energy projects, which had been set to expire at the end of that year before a late-hour extension by Congress.

“A lot of projects began in 2014 to secure the tax credit,” he said. “Those projects were being completed in 2015. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time to build a wind farm.”

The amount of wind energy within the United States has grown more than six-fold over the last decade, but it has not always been steady. In 2013 less than 1,100 megawatts were built – down from a peak of more than 13,000 megawatts the previous year – as developers feared the political winds in Washington were turning against them.

That political uncertainty was largely laid to rest after a bipartisan budget deal last year both ended a decades long ban on U.S. oil exports and extended the renewable energy tax credit through 2019 – though with shrinking payments to developers beginning next year.

What happens to wind power development once the credit runs out remains an open question, as developers anxiously watch to see whether President Barack Obama’s clean power plan is allowed to move ahead by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For now though, power analysts are predicting the steady construction of last year to continue. More than 14,000 megawatts of wind turbines are either under construction or in the late stages of development, Goggin said.