US wind headed for dismal year as carbon emissions rise

Expiry of tax credits blamed as wind power installations slow, while coal makes inroads into gas

(Pic: Google)

(Pic: Google)

By Gerard Wynn

US wind installations are performing even worse than a very poor 2013, while coal power generation and carbon emissions rise, show new data.

US carbon emissions are on course for a second successive annual rise in 2014.

Coal-fired power generation is rising on the back of higher gas prices, and as utilities run ageing coal plants into the ground, show the latest energy data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this month proposed the first ever US national cap on power sector emissions.

The EPA will cap the sector’s emissions at 30% below 2005 levels in 2030.

Because emissions have already fallen substantially over the past decade, the target is equivalent only to an 18% cut compared with last year’s levels.

While that is less significant, the latest data suggest that it may still force a big change, compared with presently rising emissions.

The EPA carbon cap may also counter a sharp slowdown in wind power installations, and boost solar.

Gas price

Growth in US coal-fired power generation is comfortably outstripping a rise in renewables.

US coal generation from January to May rose by 43 terawatt hours compared with the same period last year, show the EIA data.

That is more than four times the corresponding rise in wind and solar power generation.

Gas-fired power fell by a little over 10 TWh, show the data, published on Monday.

The rise in coal has nothing to do with new generating capacity.

Data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission show that new US coal installations are falling year on year, after the EPA ruled that any new coal-fired power plants should install expensive carbon capture and storage equipment.

The United States installed some 4.8 gigawatts of new coal-fired power in 2012, falling to 1.5 GW last year, and has not installed any in the first five months of this year, the FERC data show.

Coal-fired power generation is rising because of rising wholesale gas prices.

EIA data show that electric utilities paid an average 10% more per unit of natural gas in April this year compared with the same month last year. Coal costs rose just 1%.

Wind market

The FERC data make depressing reading for the wind industry.

The industry continues to slow this year, compared with last year, the worst year for new installed wind capacity in the United States since 2004.

That puts the industry on course for its worse year in 10 years

In January to May, the United States added just 678 megawatts of wind capacity, compared with 962 MW for the same period last year, show FERC data published on Friday.

The reason for the slowdown is the failure so far of the United States to renew a tax credit which makes wind power competitive compared with coal and natural gas.

There is a large pipeline of planned wind projects, which qualified for a now expired tax credit by starting some minimal construction last year.

It is unclear when or whether those projects will be completed, however. The latest data suggest they some may stay on the drawing board.

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