From the freezing of Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard to the uncertainty on Capitol Hill, 2014 was packed with plenty of drama and intrigue. Here are NAW’s picks for the top 10 wind energy stories of the year:
10. DOE Stuns With Offshore Wind Selection. In a highly anticipated announcement at WINDPOWER 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected Dominion Virginia Power, Principle Power and Fishermen’s Energy as the winning recipients for $46.7 million of funding in the agency’s effort to deploy innovative, grid-connected systems in state and federal waters. Each project is expected to be commercially operational by 2017.
The DOE’s selection of Fishermen’s Energy shocked many attendees because, months earlier, the developer’s proposal to build a pilot project off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., had been rejected by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU). At the time, many industry observers felt the NJBPU’s ruling all but killed the project – let alone its chances of being selected for federal funding. But, that is precisely what happened.
In a post-session press conference, Jose Zayas, director of the DOE’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, said that Fishermen’s troubles with the BPU did not factor in its decision.
“We valued innovation as the biggest single criterion,” Zayas said, adding that the program’s second round of funding did not require a full reconciling of extenuating circumstances.
The DOE’s approval, however, didn’t seem to phase the NJBPU. Six months after being selected by the DOE, the NJBPU rejected the project for the second time. Fishermen’s Energy plans to make its case before a New Jersey appellate court judge in March 2015.
9. DRECP Draft Crimps California Wind Development. On Sept. 23, four California and federal resource agencies released the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a 22.5-million-acre draft endangered species conservation plan for Southern California.
The DRECP draft – covering 37 species across nearly a quarter of the state – seeks to streamline the endangered species permitting process for utility-scale renewable energy facilities while conserving desert species and their habitat. However, the plan substantially impacts the future of wind development in the state.
The California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA) had recommended 2.3 million acres for potential wind development of up to 12.5 GW by 2040, but only half of that proposed acreage would be available under the federal and state agencies’ “preferred” DRECP alternative.
Shortly after the announcement, Nancy Rader, CalWEA’s executive director, said, “After years of trying to constructively engage in this process, we did not expect this plan to provide permitting efficiencies for wind energy. But, it now appears that our worst fears are being realized: All five DRECP plan alternatives could end most wind energy development in California.”
8. Health Canada Finds Wind Poses No Negative Health Impacts.
With results largely mirroring previous studies of wind turbines and health, Health Canada found no direct causal relationship linking wind energy to medical illnesses or health conditions.
Launched in 2012, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, the study was conducted in southwestern Ontario and Prince Edward Island. It included 1,238 households out of a possible 1,570 households living at various distances from 399 separate wind turbines in 18 wind turbine developments.
“The balance of scientific evidence to date continues to show that properly sited wind turbines are not harmful to human health and that wind energy remains one of the safest and environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation,” said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).
7. Offshore Wind Milestones. Although the U.S. remained without a single offshore wind project in 2014, several developers, such as Deepwater Wind, spent the year signing key supplier agreements and obtaining needed permits.
For its part, Cape Wind won its most recent legal challenge, executed major supply and construction contracts, and secured a significant portion of the financing required to construct the project. Nonetheless, Cape Wind says it expects to close financing for the remainder of the project in the first quarter of 2015, as opposed to the end of 2014.
6. Liberal Party Prevails In Ontario. The ruling Liberal Party of Ontario outlasted challenges from two rival political parties for control of Canada’s most important wind market.
In June, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a supporter of wind power, beat New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak. The latter challenger, who ran on an anti-wind platform, has announced his intention to resign his position. A new party leader will be selected in the coming months.
Wynne’s re-election means that the Liberal Party rules by majority government going forward. Prior to the election, the Liberal Party ruled by minority government, meaning that the party had to rely on one of the other political parties to pass legislation
According to CanWEA, the victory could keep wind energy well positioned for further growth in the province. With more than 2.75 GW of installed capacity, the province is the country’s wind power leader and has about 2 GW of more wind projects in its pipeline.
5. Turbine Crashes. From BP’s Mehoopany wind farm to Enel Green Power’s Buffalo Dunes project, this year was marked by some spectacular crashes at U.S. wind farms. Fortunately, no one was hurt at either incident.
4. Wind Developer Runs Afoul In Bird Deaths. Federal agencies stepped up enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 2014. In December, PacifiCorp Energy, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal MBTA in connection with the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming.
As a result, PacifiCorp will pay $2.5 million in fines and will take measures at the company’s Wyoming wind farms to increase eagle populations.
The guilty plea follows on the heels of a December 2013 case involving Duke Energy Renewables, which settled a case with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for $1 million. According to the DOJ, the Duke case was the first-ever criminal enforcement of the MBTA for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects.
3. Ohio Freezes RPS.
In the span of less than a week, Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, brought wind energy in the Buckeye State to its knees.
Spurred on by the legislature, Kasich helped to roll back the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). The governor’s actions not only froze Ohio’s 25% by 2025 AEPS for two years, but made Ohio the first U.S. state to roll back its renewable energy mandate. Kasich also let stand an onerous setback requirement that mandates that wind turbines be placed within 1,500 feet of the nearest property line as opposed to the nearest residence.
Taken together, these actions cast considerable doubt over the future viability of Ohio wind projects, such as Iberdrola’s 126 MW Leipsic wind farm, which is currently under development in Putnam County. “We are still evaluating how to proceed with our wind farm development efforts,” explained Paul Copleman, an Iberdrola spokesperson, shortly after the Kasich ruling. “But, there is no question that any future wind development in Ohio just got much more difficult.”
The vitriol was not limited to wind developers, however. Two hours after Kasich staff posted the decisions in a Facebook post, the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce – part of the county that hosts the state’s largest wind farm – excoriated Kasich in the comments section.
2. EPA’s Clean Power Plan To Boost Wind. The year was not all gloom and doom for the U.S. wind industry, however. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released sweeping reforms to limit carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants under Section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act.
Stricter power plant regulations could mean less coal, which could open up a big opportunity for wind power. Last year, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) did a study that estimated the retirement of U.S. coal plants could lead to an increase of up to 17 GW of wind capacity – roughly 28% of the current installed U.S. wind generation.
In fact, Tom Vinson, AWEA’s vice president for federal regulatory affairs, told NAW the EPA plan could be the third-largest driver of wind-powered generation behind state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and the federal production tax credit (PTC).
1. U.S. Wind Industry Awarded (Two Week) PTC Extension. In the waning hours of the 113th Congress, the U.S. Senate passed H.R.5771, the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, a bill previously approved by the House of Representatives in early December. Less than three weeks later, President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on Dec. 19.
H.R.5771 provides a one-year extension through the end of 2014 for dozens of tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013, including the wind energy PTC. In real terms, though, the so-called one-year extension allows wind developers about two weeks to make wind projects eligible for the PTC.
The one-year retroactive extension was far less than the time frame sought by AWEA, which was advocating for a two-year PTC extension as contained in the EXPIRE Act – a separate tax extenders package that passed in the Senate Finance Committee but stalled in May.
However, faced with the prospect of resolving several issues with must-pass status – namely, approving a spending bill to keep the U.S. government operating – Congress simply ran out of time to deliberate industry-specific issues in the truncated lame-duck session.
Ultimately, H.R.5771 contained enough provisions to appease a broad range of stakeholders, including President Obama, who had threatened to veto any legislation that favored corporations over low-income families.
As for the U.S. wind industry, however, few are expected to benefit from the PTC’s extension.
“Unfortunately, the extension to the end of 2014 will only allow minimal new wind development, and it will have expired again by the time the new Congress convenes,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, shortly after Senate approval.
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