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article imageAmazon is ready to flip the switch on utility-scale wind farm

By Karen Graham     Dec 28, 2016 in Technology
Elizabeth City - The Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East, located on 22,000 acres of farmland near Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is the first utility-scale wind farm in the state and maybe the Southeast U.S. By the start of the New Year, it will be churning out electricity.
There is a lot of excitement over the Amazon Wind Farm, not only because it's the first in the state, but because up until 2015, wind generation accounted for only about five percent of U.S. electricity, and the South produced no renewable energy.
By 2015, of the new electricity being generated, 41 percent came from wind power, making it the largest source of new electricity production that year, according to EcoWatch. And we now have a first in the Southeast with a new utility-scale wind farm.
The wind farm spans 22,000 acres in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, leased from 60 local landowners. It is a first for North Carolina and has been built on a massive scale. The facility features 104 wind turbines that can generate 208 megawatts (MW) of electricity at full capacity, enough to power more than 61,000 U.S. homes annually.
Giant wind turbines in California  a national hub for green energy and technology
Giant wind turbines in California, a national hub for green energy and technology
Kevork Djansezian, Getty/AFP/File
But instead of generating electricity for homes, this wind farm's electricity will run data centers for Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon.com.
According to the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Commission, Iberdrola Renewables at Desert Wind had been contracted to construct and operate the facility. But as a result of a merger between Iberdrola Renewables, LLC and UIL Holdings Corporation late last year, a new company was formed, called Avangrid Renewables.
Southeastern U.S. and renewable energy projects
The southeastern region of the country imports about 3.8 gigawatts of wind energy from the Midwest, or enough electricity to power about 10 million homes. But like solar power, wind power has seen little penetration in the Southeast.
"Wind is so new in the Southeast; I think there has been a fear of the unknown," said Katharine Kollins, president of Southeastern Wind Coalition, according to EcoWatch. "Having the Avangrid project up and running will be important for people to see wind farms firsthand and up close."
Final rotor  #104  going in at our new wind farm in NC-the state s first! Final rotor was installed ...
Final rotor, #104, going in at our new wind farm in NC-the state's first! Final rotor was installed on Dec. 32, 2016.
Avangrid Renewables
And then we have to take into consideration that the South isn't really known for being windy, not like the Plains states. But the biggest change in wind energy has been in turbine technology, says Simon Mahan, director of the Southern Wind Energy Association.
Mahan cites the taller turbines (300 feet, compared to 45 feet) seen today that can reach higher, stronger winds as well as the longer blades on today's turbines, making it easier to harness gentle winds. "This is opening the South as the next frontier for wind energy," Mahan noted.
Not only has the technology improved, but the nation's energy policy, with renewable energy standards and the federal Production Tax Credit, have allowed the cost of wind energy to see a 90 percent reduction in the past 25 years. And with the national energy mix continuing to change, the Southeast could be a big player in the renewables market.
Another thing that needs to be considered, despite President-elect Trump's promises to revive the coal industry, is that in the next 12 years, 46 coal-fired power plants are due to be retired, including 19 in the Southeast. The retiring plants provide about 15,600 megawatts of electricity, and they will need to be replaced with something.
More than likely, the replacements will include cheaper natural gas and renewables, which together already provide 45 percent of the nation's electricity needs. "A company or utility looking to decrease its costs needs to be looking to buy wind and solar right now," Mahan said. "At the end of the day, if it's cheaper to do, why not?"
In an interesting but related piece of information, despite there not being a huge number of wind farms in the Southeast, Southerners contribute a sizable amount of time and energy to the renewables industry. There are over 100 wind-related industries employing thousands of workers who manufacture everything from turbine blades to rotors. So if we can make the parts, why not use them, too?
More about Amazon, Wind farm, utilityscale wind farm, 104 wind turbines, Avangrid Renewables
 
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