US Wind Industry ‘Full Steam Ahead’ Despite Wind Catcher Cancellation
Case in point: new projects on the way from Apple and PacifiCorp.
It’s American Wind Week, and the U.S. wind industry has a lot to celebrate.
The American Wind Energy Association launched Wind Week last year when wind power became the country’s largest source of renewable energy capacity. Today, the industry employs more than 105,000 U.S. workers and is building more power than ever before.
There was one notable setback to the near-term U.S. wind forecast last month, however.
American Electric Power’s Wind Catcher Energy Connection project was slated to be the largest wind farm in the United States — by a long shot.
The 2,000-megawatt, $4.5 billion facility would have brought Oklahoma wind power to 1.1 million customers in the South Central U.S. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California is currently the largest wind farm in the U.S. at 1,548 megawatts, and it was built in 13 phases. Southwestern Electric Power Co., a subsidiary of AEP, proposed to build Wind Catcher in one.
In addition to deploying 800 wind turbines, Wind Catcher called for the construction of a 360-mile transmission line from the wind farm to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where AEP said the existing grid would take the wind power to customers. The transmission line faced local opposition, and with a price tag of $1.6 billion it added significant expense to the project, which made regulators wary.
“This was a really wild proposal,” said Anthony Logan, North America wind power analyst at MAKE Consulting, a Wood Mackenzie company. “This was a giant, hyper-ambitious project that came very close to succeeding, but might have gone a bit too far.”
Wind Catcher got tangled up in political, regulatory and market challenges, and in late July AEP announced it was pulling the plug. The decision came after utility regulators in Texas concluded that Wind Catcher didn’t offer enough benefits to ratepayers and rejected the project.
“AEP made a good case about this being the cheapest wind power there is going to be for a decade, but that doesn’t necessarily fly with public utility commissions — they typically have to have a need for the power,” said Logan. AEP did not make a strong enough case for the need to justify such a large project, even at a competitive price.