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Wind edges hydro as top renewables producer in 2016

However, strong rainfall predicted this year on the American West Coast could again make hydroelectric the most productive renewables source in the US, says the EIA.

Wind power pushed past hydroelectric as the nation’s top renewable energy source in a report by the Energy Information Administration that measures generation capacity in the US.

According to the EIA’s report, the US wind industry’s 8,727MW of new capacity added last year made it the leading renewable energy source per capacity for the first time. The federal agency said that as of the end of 2016, there was 81,312MW of wind capacity in the US compared with 79,985MW for hydroelectric.

Hydroelectric has led the way in US renewables production, but the amount of wind capacity added every year has increased dramatically since around 2008.

This has been partly driven by government subsidies like the investment tax credit, which offers financial support for wind developers. Congress voted at the end of 2015 to extend the credit but will gradually phase it out. There is a 24 percent tax credit available for projects started this year, but that decreases to 18 percent in 2018 and 12 percent in 2019.

The EIA said wind capacity has grown the most recently in what’s known as the US wind corridor, an area stretching from Texas to North Dakota and Montana.

The agency said the Southwest Power Pool electric system, a regional transmission system that covers states in the US wind corridor, said that wind power supplied more than half the system’s generation mix for a brief period last month. This is a first for one of the US’s seven regional transmission systems.

Despite the added capacity, EIA said hydroelectric was likely to be the strongest renewables generator this year due to weather conditions. Hydroelectric and wind generation patterns are seasonal, but hydroelectric is able to maintain a higher production average. The EIA said that a strong rainfall predicted on the West Coast this year could make hydroelectric the best performing renewables source this year.