Just over a year ago the financial meltdown made the biggest concern of wind developers merely finding financing. Wind power was cheap enough to sell itself on the open energy markets of the Northeast and west coast where it competes with natural gas-fired generators and nuclear energy generators. Now flip that picture, Mr. Kaplan says.
Federal financing is in place, Wall Street is loosening a bit, but wind power is suddenly being undercut by cheap electricity generated by natural-gas fired turbines. The gas is cheap because the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing in shale formations across the country has unleashed a torrent of fuel and torpedoed natural gas prices. Add to that an economy that's using less energy because it's just not revving that fast.
"Last year the story was how do we get financing for wind power," Kaplan says. "This year the story changed."
A new Department of Energy report released Wednesday outlined some of the issues behind wind power's lagging competitiveness. Driven by higher turbine and other component costs, the sale price of bundled power rose about $61 per megawatt hour – about double the level of just eight years ago. At the same time, however, wholesale electricity prices – driven by cheap natural gas – have fallen.
To be sure, a number of powerful trends are in wind power's favor. Notable among them: