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As Duke Energy claims spots among largest U.S. wind projects, more are on the way

Duke Energy Renewables is an owner in two of the nation’s 10 largest land-based wind farms, according to a new ranking by the renewable energy industry news publication Recharge. And the company says it has an appetite for more.

“We’re bullish on the business,” says Chris Fallon, vice president of Duke Renewables. “We have a lot of opportunity with large corporate partners that have sustainability goals and are pushing for more clean energy.”

Duke Renewables’ massive Los Vientos wind farm – more than 400 turbines built in five phases over four years – is second-largest in the United States. That 912-megawatt project in south Texas is just edged out by the 946-megawatt Alta Wind Farm near Los Angeles, Karl-Erik Stromsta reports for the online publication. A more distant third place goes to the 845-megawatt Shepherds Flat project in northern Oregon.

Duke’s other entry in Recharge’s ranking holds 10th place. That is the 593-megawatt Sweetwater Project in west Texas. That project is co-owned by Texas-based Leeward Renewable Energy. Duke is the minority owner. Although Recharge does not break out the ownership, Duke counts its capacity share at 151 megawatts, or a bit more than a quarter of the project.

Sweetwater was Duke’s first wind project in 2008 and was, in fact, the founding project of what would eventually become Duke Renewables.

The commercial subsidiary of Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) owns and operates more than 2,300 megawatts worth of onshore wind power at 20 projects (including the multiple phases of Los Vientos) in seven states.

Fallon says Duke’s current plans call for construction of three wind projects between now and the end of 2020, accounting for more than 700 additional megawatts of renewable power.

That is out of about 1,000 megawatts worth of new commercial renewables Duke is looking at over the period. The remainder will likely be all in solar power.

Fallon says Duke identified about seven new potential project sites in 2016 after the federal government extended the production tax credits for wind farms.

“We think the market is very ripe now and we are signing contracts with brand-name companies,” he says. “When we announce the projects, people are going to easily recognize the names of the corporations involved.”

That actually represents something of a shift in the market for Duke. The vast majority of its current wind-power projects are contracted to sell power to local utilities. Now the market is turning more and more to corporate power customers who are hungry for long-term contracts providing clean energy for their use.

The Recharge ranking is based on figures from the American Wind Energy Association. In his report, Stromsta notes the utility-scale wind-power industry is only about 12 years old in the United States. But its scale is remarkable, he writes.

U.S. wind farms are huge by the standards of most mature markets, reflecting the country’s wide open spaces, outsize electricity consumption and sophisticated capital markets. The largest onshore wind farm in Europe, Romania’s 600MW Fantanele-Cogealac, barely cracks the top-10 in the U.S.

Stromsta also notes, however, that U.S. onshore projects are likely to be smaller in the coming years.

And Fallon says none of the projects Duke has in its immediate pipeline rival the size of its two largest farms. He says plans for the next three farms call for projects of 180 megawatts, a 200 megawatts and 350 megawatts.