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Key Findings

Wind surpassed coal as the primary power generation source last year for the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), an independent grid operator that provides electricity for a vast territory stretching from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian border.

Growth of wind generation in the SPP has been driven by the near tripling of wind resources over a five-year period and improved wind turbine designs, and has come largely at the expense of coal.

Significant additions of renewable resources and low natural gas prices are expected to continue to cut into coal’s dwindling market share. SPP has announced plans to add almost 90 gigawatts of renewables in the near future. 

Executive Summary

The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) announced January 26 that wind surpassed coal as its primary fuel source during 2020.

There are several reasons why this was not surprising and why wind should continue to be the number one fuel source in future years.

Wind capacity and generation in the SPP has grown dramatically since 2007. One of the primary reasons is simple geography. The SPP footprint has a high potential for wind generation given the strong wind patterns in many areas.

At the same time, the cost of adding new wind capacity in SPP declined sharply (approximately 45 percent) between 2010 and 2019. Turbine design improvements such as larger rotor diameters and higher hub heights also have led to higher capacity factors and better operational performance.1

While wind generation in SPP has been increasing, the generation from coal-fired units in the region has been dropping in response both to the greater availability of low-cost wind power and low natural gas prices that have made gas-fired units more competitive.

 

1 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Wind Energy Technology Data Update: 2020 Edition. August 2020, pp. 36, 54, 55.

David Schlissel

David Schlissel is IEEFA’s Director of Resource Planning Analysis. His work focuses primarily on the technical and economic viability of resources being used or being proposed for use in the electric power sector.

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