Clean Sweep: Wind, Solar Dominate New US Generating Capacity

The EarthTechling Document Diver of the Day Award goes to Kenneth Bossong, whose close reading of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s September 2012 Energy Infrastructure Update [PDF] uncovered this tasty green morsel: Every megawatt of new electrical generating capacity installed in the United States in September was either wind or solar power.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that coal and other dirty fuels (like natural gas, which, while better, isn’t clean) have packed up and gone home. Apparently, they just went on vacation in September, because in the preceding eight months, 4,587 MW of new natural gas capacity went into service, and coal came in with 2,276 MW.

solar wind generating capacity

image via Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Still, that solar and wind swept the month and are having a big year is a sign of change — taken together, and with the other forms of clean energy added in, renewables are the leading source of new electricity generation in the U.S. this year, ahead of natural gas, even.

In September, five new wind projects, totaling 300 MW, went into service. That brought wind’s 2012 new-capacity total to 4,055 MW, ahead of last year’s January-September total of 3,239 MW, and it brought wind’s overall installed operating generating capacity to 51.07 gigawatts, 4.43 percent of total generating capacity.

But there is a bit of a problem here: One of the big reason wind is having a banner year is that developers are rushing to get their projects up and running before Jan. 1, 2013, because if they don’t, the projects won’t be eligible for investment tax credit or production tax credit. Under current law, both will expire when that giant ball comes down and the confetti flies in Times Square.

As for solar, that 133 MW figure was robust, representing more than 14 percent of the year-to-date’s 936 MW of solar — and remember, we’re talking here about utility-scale projects only, not the thousands of distributed systems going up residential and business rooftops all over the country. The biggest contributor was the Agua Caliente project in Arizona, where 50 new megawatts brought the plant total to 250 MW. It’s the biggest PV plant in the country, and by 2014 it will be up to 290 MW.

Such large-scale projects in the Southwest are becoming fairly commonplace under the Obama administration, but not all the sizable solar is happening in the desert. Here are some others that came online in September; they aren’t nearly as big as Agua Caliente, but each is impressive in its own way, as the FERC report notes:

  • Zongyi Solar America’s 20 MW Tinton Falls Solar in Monmouth County, New Jersey, is online. Tinton Falls Solar is the largest photovoltaic project in New Jersey.
  • Southern Sky Renewable Energy LLC’s 5.6 MW Canton Landfill Solar Project in Canton County, Massachusetts is online. This photovoltaic project is built on the closed and capped Canton Landfill. It is the largest solar facility in New England. The electricity generated is sold to the Town of Canton under a long-term agreement.
  • SunEdison’s 3.6 MW Phase 2 Lakeland Regional Airport Solar Project expansion in Polk County, Florida is online. The Lakeland Regional Airport Solar has a total capacity of 6.3 MW. It is the largest photovoltaic project in Florida. The electricity generated is sold under long-term contract to Lakeland Department of Electric Water Utilities.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • phor11

    You have to get permits for all Residential Solar projects correct? I wonder if there is anyone collecting and aggregating that data from the states or local governments.
    Would be very interesting to see the full picture for solar rather than just commercial installations.

  • DelmarJackson

    Why haven’t we heard about the safety and low cost of thorium reactors?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDzDk44bzyU