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Wind Power, Poised for Take Off?

A survey of projects and economics.
Fortnightly Magazine - August 2001

wind industry to boost its share of the generation fuel mix some forty-fold, or by a factor of 41.4, to be more exact. Such growth appears at odds with various other energy forecasts.

U.S. Dept. of Energy. In its "Reference Case Forecast" in Annual Energy Outlook 2001, the U.S. EIA predicts that U.S. electricity production in 2020 will climb 43 percent above the figure for 1999, hitting a total of 5,299 billion kWh.

Nevertheless, EIA forecasts only 13.1 billion kWh of wind energy generation in 2020, or about 0.24 percent. (EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2001, Tables A8, A17. See also, Glenn R. Schleede, "It' s Time for a National Energy Policy Reality Check," Energy Market & Policy Analysis, Reston, VA, June 21, 2001, contact EMPAInc@aol.com.)

Thus, the EIA forecast implies a doubling of market share for wind energy over that period - an impressive rate of growth, but a far cry from a 40-fold increase, as envisioned by DOE and AWEA.

WEFA Group. When contacted by the Fortnightly, the WEFA Group ( www.wefa.com, formerly the Wharton Economic Forecasting Associates) posed a forecast similar to that offered by EIA.

"We do not explicitly forecast wind energy, but rather, embed it in the 'other' [category for] electricity," said Margaret Rhodes, manager, U.S. Energy Outlook.

Speaking for WEFA, Rhodes put U.S. wind energy production at 5 billion kWh for year 2000, which dovetails EIA' s figure of 4.46 billion kWh for 1999, but offered a slightly more conservative forecast for 2020.

"Our forecast is rather low; approximately 5000 million kWh were generated from wind in 2000, and we are projecting that only to double, which would barely equal 0.3 percent of today' s total electricity generation.

"We are conservative, because of rather borderline economics. Nearly all of our wind capacity additions are based on known projects that are already in the pipeline.

"Outcomes could be more robust than we are projecting, if additional states enact 'green' mandates or portfolio standards (we incorporate only enacted regulatory programs) and if some of the newer non-mandated projects coming on line produce a track record of more favorable economics."

In particular, Rhodes noted the Stateline project highlighted by AWEA.

"It will be interesting," she said, "to note the progress of the new project in the Pacific Northwest."

Gas Technology Institute. In recent years, the Gas Technology Institute (formerly Gas Research Institute) has been known for its , produced by GTI' s Gas Resource Analytical Center, in Arlington, Va. However, that office was closed in June, according to GTI public relations director Joseph Hilyard. As Hilyard explained, by about 2004 GTI will no longer need to present long-term forecast data to substantiate funding requests filed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

When contacted by the , Hilyard explained that GTI' s most recent baseline projection, published in March, did not distinguish between wind energy and other renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, solar photovoltaic, and solar thermal. Also, GTI was able to provide projections only to the extent of central station electric generating capacity owned by regulated electric