NREL: Wind, PV can win in west

Wind and solar power in some western US states could be cheaper than gas-fired generation by 2025 without the need for federal subsidies, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Researchers at NREL, the US Department of Energy’s primary national renewables research centre, compared the cost of green energy in the most productive west coast locations with that produced by new gas-fired power plants.

Its latest study claims that if issues related to transmission can be overcome then Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana offer significant opportunities for wind developments to become cost-competitive. California, Arizona and Nevada are the top solar locations.

Wyoming and New Mexico in particular could be areas of robust competition among wind projects aiming to serve California and the southwest, NREL suggests. Both states are likely to have large amounts of untapped, developable, prime-quality wind potential after 2025.

Wyoming's surplus will probably have the advantage of somewhat higher productivity per dollar of capital invested in generation capacity; while New Mexico's will have the advantage of being somewhat closer to the California and Arizona markets.

Montana and Wyoming could emerge as attractive areas for wind developers competing to meet demand in the Pacific Northwest. The challenge for Montana’s wind power appears to be the cost of transmission through the rugged forests that dominate the western part of the state, NREL says.

Wyoming wind power could also be a low-cost option for customers in Utah, which also has its own diverse portfolio of in-state resources.

Colorado is a major demand centre in the Rockies and will likely have a surplus of prime-quality wind potential in 2025. However, the study suggests Colorado is likely to be isolated from future renewable energy trading in the west due to transmission costs between the state and its Rocky Mountain neighbours.

“Renewable energy development, to date, has mostly been in response to state mandates,” said senior NREL analyst David Hurlbut, the report’s lead author.

“What this study does is look at where the most cost-effective, yet untapped resources are likely to be when the last of these mandates culminates in 2025, and what it might cost to connect them to the best-matched population centres.”