By Ted Caddell
U.S. wind industry jobs and generating capacity will grow by more than 40% by 2020, despite uncertainty over the Clean Power Plan, according to a study released last week by the American Wind Energy Association.
In fact, said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan, President Trump’s vow to undo the Obama administration’s bid to cut power plant carbon emissions could be good news for the wind industry in the short run.
“If anything, [the death of the CPP] may accelerate” the pace of wind energy construction over the next few years, as projects attempt to beat the expiration of the production tax credit (PTC), Kiernan said.
Kiernan’s comments came during a news conference Thursday at which AWEA presented a Navigant Consulting study that predicts that wind generators, who ended 2016 with 82 GW of nameplate capacity, will add another 35 GW by 2020.
The study also predicts the number of Americans working for wind companies or in their supply chain will grow from the current 102,500 to 147,000. The number of direct wind energy jobs grew 17% in 2016, according to the study.
A two-thirds reduction in costs since 2009 has helped drive the industry’s growth, AWEA said.
But some of the incentives the industry currently enjoys could be imperiled. The PTC, extended by Congress in 2015, will be phased out over three years, terminating at the end of 2019.
Tax credits drove a lot of the industry’s success, Kiernan acknowledged. “The policy certainty provided by the 2015 production tax credit phase down has allowed the industry to make long-term investments in the American workforce and manufacturing to further bring costs down,” he said.
Navigant said its projections were based on the assumption that the CPP, which also encouraged wind energy growth, would be stricken.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry oversaw a doubling of wind capacity in Texas when he was governor, but it’s unclear how much he could do for the industry in his current role.
Kiernan said land leases associated with wind projects will add up to about $1.2 billion in the next five years, benefiting farmers and ranch owners, making wind “a cash crop.” The average land lease, for two turbines, comes out to about $6,000 a year.