Who's leading in North American wind?

Fires, floods, fury, and face masks.

It has been a momentous year-and-a-half for the wind sector in the US and Canada. Looking back, it has felt more like a decade-and-a-half.

Since the start of 2020, we have been through a global pandemic and watched the downfall of President Trump – as well as the bloody aftermath. We have seen a big freeze in Texas, wildfires in California, and floods in New York. The world is changing fast, and the wind industry has had to evolve in response.

But evolve it has. The sector has powered on despite Covid-19. In 2020, wind farms totalling 16.9GW were completed in the US, to take the country’s total installed wind capacity to 122.5GW, and an extra 5.3GW were completed in the first six months of 2021. This is testament to the strength of US wind, and those who lead the industry.

In neighbouring Canada, the rise in 2020 was a modest 175MW to 13.6GW.

After a tumultuous time, it feels right to reflect on the state of wind in North America in our North American Power List 2021, which came out yesterday. The report is sponsored by WindESCo and shares our ranking of the industry’s 100 key people.

It also reflects on some of the biggest trends in that are shaping the US wind industry, including the emergence of offshore wind and the growth of energy storage. You can download your copy here.

Offshore wind steps up

Nearly one third (31) of those in the top 100 are involved in the offshore wind sector, which is gaining momentum under President Biden's leadership.

In May, his administration approved the first-utility scale offshore wind project in US waters – the 800MW Vineyard Wind 1 – after over a year of delays; and, this month, the project finally achieved financial close after its owners Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners raised $2.3bn of senior debt. This is a great example to the 35GW of projects in the US offshore wind pipeline that projects can be done.

As Beth Waters, managing director of project finance in the Americas at MUFG, says in a Q&A interview in the report, that close has removed a “major roadblock”. But she adds that states must work together to take advantage of economies of scale so that the US offshore wind sector can bring down costs.

She adds investor interest in US onshore and offshore wind is “exceptionally active”. This is a point echoed by Chris LeWand, global power, renewables & energy transition leader at FTI Consulting, who says he sees “high demand” for assets that are high-performing and have “strong off-take agreements”.

However, LeWand also says that de-risked projects like those are in “relatively short supply” and that the speed that projects are being completed is slowing due to “supply chain constraints and permitting issues among other reasons”.

This suggests that any momentum the Biden administration can add to the wind industry in its $1trn infrastructure bill, including speeding up permitting, would be welcomed by the large number of developers and investors that are currently targeting the US wind sector.

Long overdue recognition

Our final observation is that the Covid-19 pandemic may have put limits on our daily lives and travel over the last 18 months, but it has been no barrier to the emergence of new talent in North American wind. Forty-nine of this top 100 are new to our NAPL reports, including many new players and some experienced players who are gaining recognition arguably long overdue.

And one third (34) of this top 100 are women, which means the NAPL has for the first time beaten the target of 30% female representation that it held up by organisations such as the 30% Club as correlating with more innovation and higher profits. That is up from 27 women in our previous NAPL in 2020, and the top ten in this new report features five women for the first time.

We’d like to thank everyone in the top 100 for their contribution to the wind industry, as well as our nominees, nominators, judges, and sponsors.

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