On the morning of Feb. 12, wind power provided 52.1 percent of the electricity for the 14-state grid known as the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). This is a significant milestone for wind, which has never before provided a majority of power for any U.S. grid, according to SPP.
SPP is responsible for 60,000 miles of power lines running from North Dakota and Montana to Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana. Wind generates about 15 percent of the electricity in the SPP region and is third behind coal and natural gas.
The February 52.1 percent wind-penetration beat the April 2016 record of 49.2 percent. Wind-penetration is a measure of the grid’s electrical total load served by wind.
“Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew said in an SPP statement. Rew explained SPP can now reliably manage more than 50 percent wind-penetration and that they have not yet reached their “ceiling.”
American Wind Energy Association’s Greg Alvarez celebrated the news in a blog post. “Records like these resonate, because they demonstrate wind energy can play a key role in an affordable, reliable, diversified energy mix,” he said. “That creates a stronger system, and helps keep more money in the pockets of families and businesses.”
In the early 2000s, SPP wind power provided less than 400 megawatts (MW) and now provides 16,000 MW. A single MW is usually able to power around 1,000 homes, Climate Central explained.
SPP has achieved this wind power milestone because of its enormous power generation footprint, which covers nearly 550,000 square miles. If the upper Great Plains is not windy one day, SPP “can deploy resources waiting in the Midwest and Southwest to make up any sudden deficits,” Rew said.
Since 2007, SPP has spent more than $10 billion on high-voltage transmission infrastructure with a focus on connecting “rural, isolated wind farms to population centers hundreds of miles away,” the organization said.
In 2015, 39 states harnessed electricity from utility-scale wind projects, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and California produced the most wind energy and about 50 percent of the total for U.S. wind production.
In 2016, wind power was the largest U.S. source of renewable electric capacity and is now the country’s fourth-largest energy source.