AWEA NE Conference Summary

Nearly 200 attendees, including 62 speakers and panelists came together for the AWEA NE Conference to gauge the relative force generated by the Northeast wind energy industry, compared to the rest of the country.

Nearly 200 attendees, including 62 speakers and panelists came together June 26-27 in South Portland, ME, US to gauge the relative force generated by the Northeast wind energy industry, compared to the rest of the country.

Celeste Wanner, an analyst at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA, Washington, DC, US), kicked off the event with an update of the state of the National industry. In 2016, energy capacity from wind, surpassed hydropower as the number one source of renewable energy. At the end of the first quarter of 2018 AWEA estimated the cumulative capacity of US wind at 89,379 MW. Land-based turbines now generate more than 6% of the nation’s electricity. Bigger, more-efficient units that are capable of drastically cutting costs should continue to fuel growth even after the Production Tax Credit (PTC) expires next year, according to data presented by Wanner.

But, what share of this growth will be in the Northeast, particularly in Maine, remains shrouded in a fog of politics and transmission challenges. With 923 MW of installed capacity spread over 16 commercial projects, Maine already produces more than four times more wind power than any other New England state, but no new wind farms have started up in Maine since 2016 and no new applications are pending, largely because of the well-documented opposition by Maine’s governor, Paul LePage and transmission problems.1

The big action in wind is happening offshore, where other Northeast states are making deals for giant wind farms, largely because of state renewable energy portfolio mandates. Vermont has set the highest target at 75% by 2032, while Connecticut has mandated 40% by 2030 and Rhode Island 38.5% by 2035.

Improvements in technology have led to larger turbines on taller towers, both onshore (Maine has the highest hub height onshore at 116 m) and offshore, Wanner said, allowing wind farms to produce more energy and boost the amount of time they’re generating power to between 40% and 50%. These and other technology improvements and design changes have decreased costs by two-thirds in the past eight years, she said. That makes wind competitive on price with natural gas power plants, Wanner said, and able to survive after the phased-down federal Product Tax Credit expires in 2019.

The mandated state procurements taking place in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island that require their utilities to buy huge amounts of power from offshore wind farms are promising prices lower than most people in the industry could have imagined even a few years ago. As stated by David Wilby, a Maine-based consultant during one of the panels, “They’ve got a big plane off the ground,” Wilby said. “Can they land that big plane? I’m confident it’s going to happen. But I wouldn’t minimize the challenge.”