Opportunities to build wind farms are on the rise due to many factors, including lower costs and increasing appetite of both public and private entities for renewable energy to meet emissions targets. However, to connect to the grid, each project must go through a generation interconnection queue for the ISO or utility of the region they are attempting to build in. With more than 800 wind projects currently in queues across the US, it is important to understand these processes to identify where a project may fall behind and identify projects that are at a high risk of not coming to market.
The three largest regions for wind power in the US are ERCOT, SPP, and MISO. These three ISOs have had 229 wind farms come into service since 2010, accounting for almost 90% of new wind capacity during that time. The following graphic shows a distribution of how long each project spent in the generation queue before coming online for each of these ISOs. This shows that projects in ERCOT have been much more likely to come to market earlier than projects in MISO or SPP.
Beyond the total time each project spends in the queue, there are also important milestones that each project must hit before being approved for commercial operation. In ERCOT, these milestones include the Screening Study (SS), Full Interconnection Study (FIS) and signing an Interconnection Agreement (IA). The distribution of the amount of time it takes to reach each milestone can be seen in the following graphic. The horizontal line through the colored area of each box and whiskers representing the median cumulative time to reach that milestone, while the bars to the top and bottom of each milestone show the total range of data we have seen for each milestone.
These distributions show that the bulk of the time, on average, is spent reaching a Full Interconnection Study or executing an Interconnection agreement; two milestones that can be pursued simultaneously.
While these distributions can be interesting to useful to audit past performance, we can also use this average timing to judge how projects currently in the queue are progressing. Below we have taken a handful of active wind projects in the ERCOT queue and compared their progress to the average project outlined above. A positive value means the project took longer than the average project, while negative values show that the project was ahead of schedule compared to the average project.
The most noticeable aspect of this graph is that certain projects, such as El Algodon Alto, Mesteño Wind, and Priddy Wind, are taking much longer than average to go through the queue. While this can be a red flag for a project, digging in a little deeper shows that there can be mitigating circumstances for why a project would be so far behind schedule. For example, El Algodon Alto and Priddy Wind were forced to refile with the FAA, pushing their timelines back. Meanwhile, for Mesteño Wind, longer construction times are needed since the project has some of the tallest wind turbines in the US, at 590 feet.
Looking at a project’s progress in the generation queue is just one of the risk factors that need to be considered if you are trying to determine if a project is going to come to market or not. BTU’s Power View tracks this and many other risk factors to give you a clearer view of the renewables landscape.