CASPER — Last year, renewable energy development broke records in Wyoming — and nationwide.
A total of 26,490 megawatts of clean energy capacity were added to the U.S. electric grid in 2020, including 16,836 megawatts of wind power, 8,894 megawatts of utility-scale solar and 760 megawatts of battery storage, according to a report published last week by the American Clean Power Association.
Wyoming saw the sixth-highest increase in renewable capacity across all states — 1,129 megawatts — as electric utility Rocky Mountain Power’s EnergyVision 2020 initiative brought new wind farms online and re-powered existing turbines.
The more than 26 gigawatts added nationally in 2020, enough to power close to 8 million homes, increased the total U.S. renewable capacity to 170 gigawatts.
In Wyoming alone, existing capacity plus the 1.1 gigawatts added last year are capable of powering 914,000 homes, the report found. The state’s one year renewable growth rate of 69% ranked fifth in the country, but its cumulative capacity of 2,879 megawatts placed just 19th overall.
“Across the nation, it’s in a pretty good position, top half of the pack,” said John Hensley, vice president of research and analytics at the American Clean Power Association.
“Within the West itself, there’s certainly more work and more opportunity for Wyoming to do some more in this space, especially given the really excellent wind and solar resource that the state has.”
Wind and other renewables contributed 14.2% of the electricity produced in Wyoming last year. Most of the rest came from coal, though thousands of megawatts of wind generation capacity are still in the works in the state, primarily from the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project.
But Hensley emphasized that other Western states are competing for new wind development, and the opportunity for rapid expansion of renewable infrastructure isn’t going to last forever.
“It’s not time to just rest on the laurels,” Hensley said. “The state needs to be thinking about other ways that it can incentivize and attract additional investment.”
One strategy could be leveraging the promise of low-cost electricity to draw new businesses and industries to the state, like New Mexico has done with Facebook and Texas with General Motors.
Another, he said, “is thinking about ways to really get more transmission permitted and approved, so that the wind and solar has an outlet to the larger energy markets towards the west.”