The U.S. wind power industry appears to be poised for new period of growth after nearly becoming a victim of its own success. In the boom years of the early 2000s, thousands of new wind turbines were installed. But by 2008, the nation's aging electric grid became so overwhelmed many wind projects were cancelled – notably T. Boone Pickens' ambitious $10 billion project near Pampa, Texas.
Fast forward to 2011 and the critical transmission upgrades to the electric grid are beginning to have an impact. Southern California Edison's high-voltage line connecting the Tehachapi Pass to Los Angeles has breathed new life into what was the nation's oldest area of wind turbines. The increased capacity to L.A. has enabled construction on California's largest wind park located in Kern County.
ITC Holdings' Green Power Express is a network of transmission upgrades across the Midwest. President Obama recently highlighted one key part of the new system – a high-voltage line connecting windy North Dakota with Chicago. Like the Tehachapi line to Los Angeles, the Green Power Express is expected to spur construction of hundreds of megawatts of new wind power from developers with pending projects in the Dakotas, such as Crownbutte Wind Power of Mandan, North Dakota and Next Era.
As important as the transmission upgrades in California and the Midwest are for the wind industry, the worst bottleneck is in Texas – long number one in wind power. In 2008, the Texas Public Utility Commission responded by approving a package of transmission upgrades totaling $5 billion. The first new transmission route is along Interstate 10 and another route was chosen last December to the Texas Panhandle – considered to be the nation's best wind region.
Wind developers with shovel-ready projects pending near the new Panhandle high voltage line include Nacel Energy as well as privately held RES America and Cielo Wind Power.