General Motors revs up wind energy support - Smart Energy Decisions

Industrial, Sourcing Renewables, Wind  -  February 9, 2017

GM helps position wind as all-American energy source

Photo of Texas wind farm provided by General Motors. 

At a General Motors Co. assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, that will soon be powered entirely with wind power, the American Wind Energy Association released its fourth quarter 2016 market report and sought to position the renewable energy source as an all-American solution for U.S. businesses. 

AWEA's alignment with GM for the announcement speaks to the significant role commercial and industrial organizations continue to play in the advancement of the U.S. wind market.

According to AWEA's report, nonutility purchasers such as GM, Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Defense represented 39% of wind purchased in 2016 through long-term contracts, totaling 1,574 MW; more than half of that capacity is located in Texas. While representing a large piece of the wind capacity pie, that figure is down from 2015, when nonutility buyers accounted for 52% of or 2,074 MW, of all wind power capacity contracted through power purchase agreements.

Wind generation has now surpassed hydropower dams to become the largest source of renewable electric capacity in the U.S., and the fourth largest overall, according to the report. AWEA says U.S. wind power is on track to double its output over the next five years and supply 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020.

"Growing this made-in-the-USA clean energy resource helps rural communities pay for new roads, bridges and schools while bringing back manufacturing jobs to the Rust Belt," AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said in a statement. "With our two-thirds cost reduction over the last seven years, household brands like General Motors, Wal-Mart, and more are buying low-cost wind energy to cut costs and power their businesses."

For GM, wind energy is helping to support its recently announced goal of powering 100% of its global operations with renewable energy by 2050. The Detroit-based automaker's Arlington Assembly plant, which produces more than 1,000 SUVs a day, gets about 50% of its electricity needs from wind energy today. Starting in 2018, Arlington Assembly will be GM's first plant to have all of its electricity needs met with wind energy.

"At GM, we're committed to efforts in our facilities that create business value and strengthen communities where we live and work," GM global manager of renewable energy Rob Threlkeld said. "Using wind power delivers on this by securing more stable energy costs while reducing our impact on the environment." 

Speaking further to the wind industry's impact on the U.S. economy, AWEA said that while buying low-cost wind energy helps make other industries more competitive, building the wind turbines themselves is also big business: The wind industry employs 25,000 Americans at more than 500 factories in 43 states, including 40 wind manufacturing facilities across Texas. 

"With more wind energy production and more wind workers than any other state, if you want to know how wind works for America, just ask a Texan," Kiernan added.

Editor's note: Threlkeld is a Smart Energy Decisions advisory board member. 

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