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Renewables Account for 92% of New Capacity, Still a Slow Start Compared to 2013

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday March 28th, 2014 | 4 Comments

Renewable_energy_MichaelMeesPhotographyWind and solar power proponents are hailing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report on energy infrastructure.  According to the FERC’s February 2014 report, renewable energy topped the list for new energy installations during January and February. Approximately 92 percent of the new installations for energy production during the first two months of the year were for solar, wind, biomass hydro or thermal power generation.

Those numbers include 25 new solar plants, six wind farms, two hydro* and three geothermal plants. New wind installations include the Pheasant Run project in Huron County, Wis. (75 MW), which will generate electricity for DTE Energy Co., and the Fort Hays University’s installation in Ellis County, Kan. (4 MW), to power services at the university. Solar includes a wide range of projects, including four installations by Recurrent Energy totaling 73 MW to generate power under contract for Southern California Edison.

In comparison, fossil fuel-based infrastructure installation was almost nonexistent for January and February, with only one natural gas facility brought online.

Not all of the news was encouraging, however. Solar and wind installations were about half what they were for the same time in 2013, which saw 46 solar and nine wind construction projects installed. While there were no new geothermal plant installations for those two months of 2013, water (four projects), biomass (27 projects) and waste heat (one project) took up the slack. That was also a good period for the natural gas industry, which saw six new installations and oil, which completed two for that period of 2013.

But renewable energy supporters aren’t letting this year’s comparatively slow start get them down.

“Only flat-earthers and climate-deniers can continue to question the fact that the age of renewable energy is now here,” said Ken Bossong, executive director of the nonprofit research and educational organization Sun Day Campaign. He points out that the generating capacity for solar, wind and biomass now accounts for 16.14 percent of the country’s total generating capacity in operation.

“This is more than nuclear (9.26 percent) and oil (4.05 percent) combined,” says Bossong, who included the reminder that generating capacity shouldn’t be confused with actual generation of renewable energy, which currently stands at “about 13 percent” (Dec. 2013, Energy Information Administration).

* An additional 7 license applications for hydropower (70 MW) were also filed in February for US Army Corps of Engineers facilities already located on the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  The FERC report does not define what it considers to be renewable energy, and hydroelectric power remains a debated contender for that classification in some states. For a complete breakdown of energy sources for January and February, see the FERC report for Feb 28.

 

Image credit: Mees Photography


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  • JohnInMA

    Don’t the portions of renewable energy (capacity or generation) stated include hydropower? I have never seen another study or reference to reported values that puts renewable energy output so high without including hydropower, which thanks to the Pacific NW is a significant contributor to the non-fossil mix.

  • J_N_Lee

    Thanks JohnInMA for your comment.

    You raise an excellent point. Although there were two hydro installations for the month of February (none in Jan.), I did notice that it was left out of the breakdown of renewable resources by one source. My understanding is that hydro’s status as a RE source is much debated due to the environmental impact of dams on fish stocks, water flows, etc. It’s counted as RE by many states, but generally, not by the feds. But you are right: it has significant merits that even environmental lobbies recognize that really tag the issue as a matter of how the resource is managed, not whether it is renewable.

    An excellent article on this topic is http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-hydropower-renewable-energy.html

    Thanks again for your great comment!

    • JohnInMA

      I guess my point was less the political nature of whether hydropower qualifies as RE and more that the stated annual percentages are not accurate (too high) if its output is omitted.

      • J_N_Lee

        Thanks for pointing that out. We’ve added the hydro into the initial list. The feds did not list which they defined as renewable in its report, but it would seem that upon review, we should have made that deduction (despite the above information about hydro being left out of the list in some cases). I appreciate the sharp eye
        .