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Wind Powering America – A Credible Source for Information

August 6, 2013

The goal of the Wind Powering America (WPA) initiative, established by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 1999, was to facilitate a rapid increase in U.S. wind power capacity by engaging in activities that address barriers to deployment on national, regional, and state levels. For more than a decade, the WPA team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) worked with industry members and regional stakeholder groups to help DOE achieve its WPA goal, focusing its efforts on states with good wind resource potential but little wind energy deployment. On a state level, team members worked with community members to form wind working groups, providing technical support and objective information on wind energy policy, siting, environmental effects and the economic benefits of wind development.

At the end of 2000, the U.S. wind energy capacity was just over 2,500 megawatts (MW). By the end of 2012, that capacity had grown to more than 60,000 MW¾enough to power more than 15 million homes annually. A new report by Navigant Consulting provides findings on just how much of this rapid industry growth was supported by WPA’s efforts.
Published by DOE in June, the report evaluates the impacts and processes of the WPA initiative. The study focuses on WPA’s state-level activities, which are intended to increase the deployment of utility-scale, community, and small wind systems. These state-level activities include the formation of wind working groups in 36 states, a Wind for Schools project, anemometer loan programs, the completion of wind resource maps, and annual workshops and outreach efforts.
 
The study employed an investigative approach that included historical tracing, iterative questionnaires, and in-depth interviews of key market actors in states with and without WPA wind working groups. The approach focused primarily on utility-scale wind in states that added significant capacity during the initiative’s first 11 years (from 1999 through 2010).
 
Consultants found that although federal and state policies, such as the production tax credit and renewable portfolio standards, had the greatest influence on increasing wind capacities, WPA state-level activities had a positive and measureable influence as well. Approximately 2,300 MW of capacity-equivalence was due to state-based activities in the 36 WPA target states. An additional 1,050 MW was allocated to other WPA-supported activities, such as utility partnerships and federal green power purchasing. The combined total of 3,375 MW, which includes impacts on the small wind market, is equivalent to nearly 15% of the 22,600 MW of the wind capacity added in the 36 states after wind working groups were formed. In addition, several neighboring states that did not have wind working groups but that participated in wind working group activities experienced an increase in wind capacity as a result of their exposure to and implementation of WPA-like activities in other states. In Iowa, New York, and Texas this increase equated to an additional 1,100 MW of capacity. Approximately 70% of the study’s participants felt the total capacity at the end of 2010 would have been lower and projects would have been delayed if not for the influence of the WPA initiative.
 
Several key drivers attributed to the success of the WPA initiative, including the ability of the wind working groups to leverage third-party funding and the size and diversity of the network of individuals and groups connected to the initiative. Because the WPA network includes national laboratories and universities, its working groups were considered a vital source of credible, unbiased technical information. 
 
As a result of this study, the consultants made several recommendations to DOE. One of the recommendations was to continue leveraging WPA’s reputation as a provider of objective and credible technical information to address current and emerging barriers that could affect large-scale growth in wind energy capacity. Another recommendation was to continue utilizing the initiative’s ability to influence the market through stakeholder engagement and expand partnerships with universities and organizations perceived as credible sources of information.
 
Read the full evaluation of Wind Powering America’s state-based activities.