Renewable energy in the first quarter dominated US utility-scale power generation build and expansions with 97% of 5.91GW new capacity led by the 999MW Traverse wind megadevelopment in Oklahoma, the nation’s largest sector project built in a single phase, according to new data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Developers brought 17 wind projects comprising 4.11GW of nameplate capacity into service, the same number as a year earlier when 3.55GW came online. Two American Electric Power subsidiaries own Traverse which is providing electricity to Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
Seventy-six PV projects entered service totalling 1.63GW, down from 166 a year earlier when capacity installed was 3.01GW, according to FERC’s latest Energy Infrastructure Update report.
Three small hydro projects totalling 5MW came online in the quarter versus four totalling 14MW a year earlier. Natural gas was the only other source of new power generation capacity with 14 units totalling 154MW, one fewer than a year earlier when 453MW of capacity came online.
The first quarter numbers continue a trend since 2020 where PV and wind new build and expansions far outpaced other technologies including natural gas despite its price having tripled over the last 12 months to the highest levels since 2008.
That partly reflects the push by renewable energy developers to qualify projects for maximum value of federal tax credits before they expire for wind and step down to a permanent 10% of capital expenditure for PV.
Other factors are growing consumer preference for carbon-free or cleaner energy as an alternative to coal and natural gas, and tougher mandates in some states for utilities to green their electricity fuel mix.
Some investors have slowed development or expansion of projects that will burn fuel oil and natural gas in response to tougher federal permitting requirements for both feeder pipelines and generation plants that President Joe Biden’s administration is imposing or plans to enact.
High commodity prices and supply chain issues remain both a hurdle and wild card for planning and construction of natural gas and renewable energy power plants. Steel used to fabricate both gas and wind turbines, for example, has soared from $500-600/ton a year ago to about $1,700/ton.
US ports are congested although not to the extremes during the worst outbreaks of Covid-19. Still, getting components and raw materials to factories and job sites is a challenge amid a shortage of train crews, truck drivers, and space at warehouses.
Natural gas remains the leading US source of power generating capacity with 43.9% of 1.25TW installed on 31 March, according to FERC. Coal was second (18.2%), then wind (11.1%), nuclear (8.2%), hydro (8.1%), and solar (5.7%). Other power sources include biomass, fuel oil, geothermal, and waste heat.