SALT LAKE CITY – The wind didn’t howl quite as fiercely in 2015 in Utah and eight other states across the West, leading to the nation’s smallest increase in wind generated power in 16 years.
A recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration said weather patterns in the western portion of the United States created only a 5.1 percent increase in wind generated power over 2014. By comparison, electricity from wind generation grew by nearly 20 percent in 2013 and by about 8 percent in 2014.
Dampened wind production in the West dominated the first half of 2015, when El Nino weather patterns fueled more pronounced wind generation in the central portion of the United States.
Utah, like California, experienced wind generation declines between 5 percent and 10 percent. Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming all saw decreases of between 10 percent and 15 percent.
The country continued to add wind generation capacity, which grew by nearly 13 percent last year. Texas accounted for 44 percent of that growth and is the nation’s top generator, producing 24 percent of U.S. wind power, according to the analysis.
Wind energy makes up 4.7 percent of U.S. electric power generation, second to hydroelectric in the renewable energy sector. Energy Information Administration analysts predict that more capacity will bring wind generation above the 5 percent mark by the end of this year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, too, reports that employment of wind turbine technicians is expected to grow 108 percent through 2024, much faster than average for all professions as new capacity comes online.
Across the country, 11 states get more than 10 percent of their power generation from wind.
Utah is among those states this year that are adding more wind power. The 60-megawatt Latigo Wind Park came online in March in San Juan County and operates under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Rocky Mountain Power.
Beaver County is home to a 306-megawatt wind farm that had been operated by First Wind until it was acquired by renewable energy giant SunEdison in a business deal finalized this year.
SunEdison declared bankruptcy last week after a binge buying spree left it strapped for cash.
Scott Albrecht, economic development director for Beaver County, said he met with company officials after the bankruptcy announcement to get a status update on how the development might affect planned solar projects in the county.
SunEdison completed six 3-megawatt solar projects in Beaver County and has three larger, 80-megawatt solar farms in varying stages of development.
“We’re still confident they will be completed and operational,” he said.
A fourth, 100-megawatt solar farm has yet to be constructed, so its fate is less certain, Albrecht said.