Despite more than $14 billion in cash payments to solar, wind, and other renewable energy project developers since 2009, just 48 terawatt hours of additional annual electricity generation were expected to be added through funds authorized by the stimulus, according to documents released by the Department of Treasury.
The more than 45,000 projects brought online through 2012 would represent less than 1.2 percent of overall electricity generation, according to figures provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration for 2011. More than 4,105 terawatt hours were generated from all energy sources in 2011, with 2.9 percent from wind and just 0.04 percent from solar thermal and photovoltaic, the EIA said.
The 1603 program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and administered by the Department of Treasury and Department of Energy, has awarded more than $9.2 billion to 748 small and large wind projects and $2.7 billion to more than 44,000 solar projects.
The 1603 program offered cash payments of “30% of the project’s total eligible cost basis” in lieu of investment tax credits for qualifying technologies like biomass, marine hydrokinetic, geothermal, solar, and wind.
Despite the increased capacity, solar electric generation actually decreased from 0.14 percent for the month of June 2012—first reported by Scribe—to 0.11 percent in July, according to EIA’s most recent figures.
Similarly, electricity generated by wind has dropped 24 percent from January to July, as The Heritage Foundation’s David Kreutzer pointed out last month. Wind turbines typically generate just one quarter of their capacity, said Kreutzer:
For years, wind advocates have been bragging about the growth of installed wind-power capacity, which they compare to other energy sources. What they rarely (if ever) talk about is production.
Because windmills cannot be turned on at will—in industry jargon, they are not dispatchable—the power they produce depends on how much the wind blows. At 25 percent, the average capacity factor for wind power is well below those of conventional sources.
Wind is less reliable when it is needed the most—during the hot summer months. A new study on wind intermittency examined wind availability, not capacity, during the highest demand days during the hot and humid summer from data sources like the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and found that when demand is greatest, more than 84 percent of the installed wind generation fails to produce electricity.
The author of the study, Continental Economics President Jonathan Lesser, offered this example:
The July 2012 heat wave in Illinois, where temperatures soared to 103 degrees in Chicago, provides a compelling example of wind generation’s failure to perform when needed most. During this heat wave, Illinois wind generated less than 5% of its capacity during the record breaking heat, producing only an average of 120 MW of electricity from the over 2,700 MW installed. On July 6, 2012, when the demand for electricity in northern Illinois and Chicago averaged 22,000 MW, the average amount of wind power available during the day was a virtually nonexistent 4 MW.