South Australia may be setting the pace in the share of electricity that is generated from variable renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but some US states are catching up quickly.
South Australia produced around 41 per cent of its electricity from wind energy in the last financial year, and probably another 5 per cent from rooftop solar. In the US, the state of Iowa leads with 36 per cent wind energy, and expects to beat 40 per cent with a series of major new projects by 2020.
“From July of 2015 to July of 2016 — in that fiscal year — over 35 per cent of the electricity produced in Iowa came from wind energy. In fact it was 35.8 per cent,” Governor Terry Branstad said at the weekend. And there is another 3,100MW under construction, equal to twice South Australia’s total wind capacity.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa is the first state to produce 30 per cent or more of its electricity from wind. Kansas and South Dakota both produce more than 25 per cent of their state’s electricity with wind, while Oklahoma and North Dakota produce around 20 per cent.
According to the AWEA, there are some 20GW of wind energy projects under construction in the US – added to the current US wind fleet of 75.7GW. One-third of this new capacity has been commissioned and signed by non-utility buyers like Johnson & Johnson, Amazon and Target.
Branstad is enthusiastic about wind because Iowa already has electricity rates around 36 per cent below the national average, and he says that wind energy will ensure cheap energy into the future. And it has brought $12 billion of investment and 7,000 jobs, through installation and manufacturing.
A recent study found that expanding wind energy can save Iowa consumers $12.6 billion over the next 25 years by displacing more expensive electricity from conventional (fossil fuel) power plants that have fluctuating fuel costs.
That study suggested that recent wind energy purchase prices were cheaper than gas prices, which could be triple the cost of wind in some scenarios, and nearly double in the reference case forecast by the US Department of Energy.
MidAmerican Energy vice president Mike Feher says his company wants to generate as much renewable energy each year as its customers in Iowa use.
“At the end of this year we expect to be at about 58 percent. With the completion of Wind Eleven (wind farm), we expect to be at 85 per cent,” Feher says.
AWEA chair said the wind power resources helped lure businesses like Google and Microsoft to the state.