The US wind market is in the midst of a wind plant construction boom. As of early August, 25,819 MW of wind projects were in various stages of advanced development or construction, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA’s) U.S. Wind Industry Second Quarter 2017 Market Report. This represents a 41% increase in under construction projects over the same quarter in 2016 and the largest amount ever recorded by AWEA. The remarkable increase is the result of the long-term phaseout of the wind industry’s favored incentive, the Production Tax Credit (PTC).
The extension, which was secured by the industry through negotiations with Congress, is structured so that wind plants that began construction by the end of 2016 will receive 100% PTC value. Projects starting construction in 2017 will receive 80% of the PTC value, and the percentage will continue to decline through 2020 (2018: 60%; 2019: 40%; 2020: 0%). Most importantly, revised guidance provided by the IRS in May 2016 changed the construction window from 2 to 4 years. Therefore, projects on the tail end of the PTC window will be finishing construction through 2023.
Most companies seeking the maximum financial return on their wind projects aim to qualify their projects as having started in 2016 or 2017. The bar to qualify for start construction is not very high, which is one reason why so many projects are in various stages of advanced development and construction. To be considered under construction, a wind project developer must have started work of a significant nature on the project site or signed turbine or other equipment supply agreements representing at least 5% of the total expected project cost.
The Big Three
Other key highlights from AWEA’s quarterly report include an update to the installed capacity in 2017: a modest 357 MW during Q2 and 2,357 MW year-to-date. This brings the US total to 84,405 MW, with more than 52,000 turbines operating in over 41 states. The turbine vendor market share represented by installations so far in 2017 reinforces an ongoing trend: the big three turbine OEMs, Vestas, General Electric, and the recently merged Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE), represented 97% of all turbines installed in the first half of 2017.
Intense competition has led some vendors to reduce supply chain and manufacturing commitments in the US market. However, this is not a market that can be competitively sourced via a high proportion of imported supply chain. Massive towers, blades, and the nacelle drivetrain componentry ideally are manufactured within the country. The big three continue to have outsized commitments to domestic manufacturing or sourcing from vendors based in the United States, an approach that secures their substantial market shares.
Power Purchase Agreements
Corporate purchases of wind power and other renewables capacity continue to be a major trend exhibited in AWEA’s quarterly report. Power purchase agreements (PPAs) signed during the first half of 2017 totaled 1,697 MW; 37% of that capacity was through direct corporate purchase where companies like Apple, General Mills, T-Mobile, and others contracted PPAs. Notably, direct utility ownership represented 45% of capacity in advanced development. Direct utility ownership of wind plants has typically represented a low percentage of installed capacity. Yet, utilities are motivated to buy directly into wind when it is on a sale that is eventually going to subside.
Future US quarterly market reports can be found at AWEA’s market report link. Also worth noting is that AWEA recently launched an interactive map that tracks the growing number of wind projects online and the hundreds of manufacturing facilities supported by the wind industry.