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Wind industry headed into COVID-19 crisis with record construction activity

The U.S. wind industry installed 1,821 MW of new wind power capacity in the first three months of 2020, a 117% increase over the first quarter of 2019, according to the industry's largest trade group. There are now 107,443 MW of wind power capacity operating in the U.S., the American Wind Energy Association said in its first-quarter report on wind activity, released April 30.

Construction activity reached a record of 24,690 MW by the end of March, with an additional 19,751 in advanced development, the association, or AWEA, said.

Yet the COVID-19 pandemic puts at risk those projects, AWEA warned. The group said 35,000 jobs, including wind turbine technicians, construction workers and factory workers, are also endangered. AWEA has asked Congress to extend the current four-year safe harbor guidance under the production tax credit to five years for wind energy projects that began construction in 2016 or 2017. (A Treasury Department official on May 7 indicated in a letter to several legislators that the department "plans to modify the relevant rules in the near future.")

AWEA is also asking for a direct pay option for developers in lieu of the credit for such projects.

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

Wind manufacturing plants across the world "face delays due to facility shutdowns and/or a lack of raw material," AWEA's report said. "Delays in receiving components are also affecting timelines, which is particularly concerning for projects located in cold-weather regions with limited construction windows and projects targeting November or December [startup dates]," the report said.

New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan have not deemed wind project construction essential, so activity is suspended in those states.

"Projects unable to meet the end-of-year deadline may have difficulty closing financing," AWEA said. "Deal execution is also a concern as banks have limited resources to complete transactions under compressed schedules. Finally, tax equity markets have shallowed as some banks have suspended activities and others have implemented more stringent hurdles."

Texas leads the way

Among the states, Texas saw the most capacity additions in the first quarter, with 540 MW. Texas now has 29,407 MW of operating wind power capacity, by far the highest in the nation, according to the report.

The largest wind project completed in the quarter was Ørsted A/S's 338.4-MW Sage Draw Wind Project in Lynn County, Texas, which has a 12-year off-take agreement with Exxon Mobil Corp. The Danish Ministry of Finance owns just over half the project, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

Second was the 207.6-MW Prevailing Wind Park Project in Bon Homme County, S.D. SPower, a joint venture of AES Corp. and Alberta Investment Management Corp., obtained financing for the project in September. SPower is legally known as Sustainable Power Group LLC.

South Dakota ranked fourth among states in capacity additions, with 217 MW installed in the first quarter. South Dakota now has 1,742 MW of wind power capacity.

The third-largest project of the quarter was Alliant Energy Corp. subsidiary Interstate Power & Light Co.'s 200-MW Whispering Willow Wind Farm - North (New Wind) project in Franklin County, Iowa. Iowa had the second-most capacity additions, with 461 MW installed in the first quarter, and is also second in the nation in total wind power capacity, with 10,664 MW.