Wind Energy in 1993 - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE

Tracing the Story of US Wind Development With a DOE Map

By Roy L Hales

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A new Department of Energy map is a bit of an eye opener for those of us getting skeptical about the Golden State’s wind potential. According to an article in the  Wallstreet Journal, wind power makes sense in Texas, but not in California,  “which isn’t located in the ‘wind belt.’” That may be true, but guess where the technology first took root!

With the help of DOE’s online map, you can track the development of US wind energy since the first turbines were erected in 1975. Another 48 wind farms were added over the next 18 years and, as you can see from the screen shot at the top of this page, every one of them was in California!

Wind Energy in 1997 - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
Wind Energy in 1997 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

According to the California Energy Commission, 95% of the state’s wind generating capacity comes from three regions: Altamont Pass (east of San Francisco), Tehachapi (south east of Bakersfield) and San Gorgonio Pass (east of Los Angeles).

“In 1995, these areas produced 30 percent of the entire world’s wind-generated electricity.”

Minnesota came online in 1994. Three more states started using wind energy soon after that: Texas (1995), Alaska (1997) and Vermont (1997).

Wind Energy in 1998 - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
Wind Energy in 1998 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

The focus doesn’t really shift outside California until 1998. See all the turquoise dots on the map? Those are new wind farms and every one of them was built outside California. (You will need to zoom in on those Californian clusters to watch their development for awhile because the turquoise dots are not easy to find among the existing wind farms.)

Wind Energy in 2006, the year Texas became #1 - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
Wind Energy in 2006, the year Texas became #1 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

The number of wind farms more than doubled by 2001 and doubled again by 2005, at which there were 226 wind farms that had the capacity, if running at 100%, to power 2.2 million homes. Note the lack of development in California, compared to midwestern states.  In  August 2006 Renewable Energy World reported, “Texas for the first time supplanted historic leader California as the top state in cumulative wind power capacity.” (That’s also the year Hawaii came online.)

Wind Energy in 2008  - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
Wind Energy in 2008 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

By 2008, Texas’ capacity was more than any two other states combined and California had dropped to #3:

1.  Texas, 7,116 MW
2.  Iowa, 2,790 MW
3.  California, 2,517 MW
4.  Minnesota, 1,752 MW
5. Washington, 1,375 MW

California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program was passed in 2002, but you will need to zoom in on those three clusters to easily see development prior to  2009. In the beginning of that year President Obama signed a stimulus package that enables wind-farm developers to get a federal cash grant or tax credit covering up to 30% of their capital investment.

It starts getting easier to see development in California again in 2009 - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
It starts getting easier to see development in California again in 2009 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

According to Patrick Jenevein, of the Dallas based Tang Energy Group, “After the 2009 subsidy became available, wind farms were increasingly built in less-windy locations.” Politics, rather than economic feasibility, has been driving the market. In the article he wrote last year, in the Wall Street Journal, Jenevein stated

” … California, which isn’t located in the “wind belt,” is America’s second-largest wind-energy producer but also its costliest. The state’s high costs are partly due to “aggressive renewable energy policies . . . that give developers a strong negotiating position,” according to the Department of Energy report.”

He added that “The industry’s success in Texas (where my company is based, and which is the nation’s largest and cheapest producer of wind power) suggests that wind farms do make sense in relatively windy areas where electricity shortages occur.”

Jenevein had been doing wind projects since the late 1990’s, but left that sector.

Wind Energy in 2010  - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
Wind Energy in 2011 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

Ryan Koronowski was arguing from a different perspective when he wrote, “In parts of Texas and the Great Plains, wind prices are competitive with coal and gas without the wind PTC.” Koronowski wanted the grants to continue. He had no doubt the industry would survive without the grant, but would it thrive?

Running through the figures on the DOE’s map, there is not an obvious jump in the number of wind farms the year in 2009:

2007 – 318 farms
2008 – 416 farms
2009 – 523 – farms online year the incentives established
2010 – 581 farms
2011 – 677 farms
2012 – 815 farms

What is obvious, however, is that incentives are fuelling the industry. A recent Bloomberg article points out that the industry’s development almost came to a halt in 2013 because of Congress‘ diligence in approving them and “Once the credit was reinstated, it took much of the year for development activity to resume.”

Wind Energy in 2008  - Courtesy "Wind Farms Through Years," DOE
Wind Energy in 2012 – Courtesy “Wind Farms Through Years,” DOE

The last map of this series is from 2012. posted  California has taken second place and the ranking, as of December 2013:
1.Texas (12,355 MW)
2. California (5,830 MW)
3. Iowa (5,178 MW)
4. Illinois (3,568 MW)
5. Oregon (3,153 MW)

(All Maps courtesy DOE)

4 thoughts on “Tracing the Story of US Wind Development With a DOE Map”

  1. Loss of habitat remains the #1 cause of species extinction. I think that individuals who find the appearance of industrial wind turbines pleasing, relaxing and even welcoming in the landscape fail to understand what they represent in ecological terms: fragmentation of the air column. This is extremely important because birds spend better than 80% of their life in the air. Turbines represent a peculiar set of difficulties’ for birds, who find them completely foreign. Statements about avoidance and even research proving avoidance by birds does not recognize that avoidance is, in fact, representative of a real or perceived “loss of habitat”. This same phenomenon is also occurring under the ground, where the soil has been disrupted to pour the massive concrete base to hold the turbine upright, and the ground vibrations caused by turbine operation can be measured as far as 6 miles away. Proponents of industrial wind view the proliferation of wind energy with tunnel vision, considering one singular goal, carbon emissions, while willfully ignoring the vast network that actually creates and sustains ecological balance. The map here, and the map generated by the USGS, while an example of example of bureaucratic waste via redundancy, should also open our eyes to the problems we risk creating for ourselves by recklessly implementing this technology without carefully considering the long-term ramifications of the slaughter represented by this sprawl.

    1. Hi Mary: I enjoyed writing this article because it allowed me to focus on the development of wind technology and the question of whether it is supplying power.

      At this point, I am not certain it does much when it comes to reducing emissions. (The main reason we are supposed to use it!)

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