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John Kruzel
By John Kruzel March 13, 2019

Did Washington state build $6 billion in wind farms over a dozen years?

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has made fighting climate change the top priority of his 2020 Democratic presidential bid.

In a sit-down with CNN, Inslee touted his state’s success in adopting renewable energy technology over a relatively short time span.

"We have done some good things," Inslee told CNN’s Jake Tapper March 10. "We have developed a wind industry from zero to $6 billion in 12 years."

Inslee’s claim about Washington state’s wind energy investment was on the money. But if it sounds like Inslee is taking credit for it, it's worth noting he was governor for only a brief period during this build-up. 

Pricing wind power

We traced Inslee’s stat to a fact sheet on Washington from the American Wind Energy Association. The AWEA fact sheet puts capital investment in the Evergreen State’s wind industry at $6.1 billion through 2017.

A footnote to that dollar figure states that the calculation is "based on national and state averages." We weren’t sure what that meant, so we reached out to AWEA and independent experts for clarification.

Daniel Schwartz, a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Clean Energy Institute, walked us through how the numbers are crunched.

A typical approach to estimating the value of wind investment in a given area begins by figuring out that area’s amount of generating capacity, as measured in megawatts. One megawatt is equivalent to 1 million watts.

For instance, Washington state had 3,075 megawatts of wind capacity at the end of 2017, according to the Department of Energy, ranking it 10th in the nation. Texas blew away the rest of the country with 22,599 megawatts of overall wind electricity generation. Here’s a nationwide snapshot from the most recent Department of Energy report:

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The cost of installing a wind turbine changes from year to year based on market forces. So arriving at a grand total of wind investment requires calculating the cost for each year, then adding up those annual figures.

To determine the cost of wind investment, you take the amount of megawatts of capacity added in a given year, and multiply that figure by the average cost for installed wind projects that year. Pricing data — measured in terms of dollars per megawatt — comes from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"We use a national or regional average price per megawatt, rather than an actual price to acquire the generating capacity," Schwartz explained. "That’s because the actual contracted price each utility got from the vendor is not generally reported to the public."

AWEA confirmed this was essentially their methodology to reach the $6.1 billion figure for Washington’s total capital investment in wind farms—all of which was built in the 13 years between 2001 and 2014. (They noted that the value is a bit higher if you factor inflation.) Inslee became governor in 2013. 

As for the time element of Inslee’s claim, AWEA said the state’s investment in 2001 was relatively meager. So the governor’s claim that the investment took place over 12 years is basically correct.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy’s renewable energy office said AWEA’s numbers were in line with federal pricing data from the department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They, too, noted the value is higher if you factor inflation.

Our ruling

Inslee said, "We've developed a wind industry from zero to $6 billion in 12 years."

His figure is backed up by the American Wind Energy Association and federal pricing data from the Department of Energy. The vast majority of Washington’s wind energy capital was invested over a 12-year period, from 2002 through 2014. It's worth noting that Inslee became governor only in 2013.

The statement is accurate but needs additional information. We rate this Mostly True.

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Mostly True
"We have developed a wind industry (in Washington state) from zero to $6 billion in 12 years."
in an interview
Sunday, March 10, 2019

Our Sources

CNN’s State of the Union, March 10, 2019

American Wind Energy Association’s Washington state fact sheet, accessed March 12, 2019

U.S. Department of Energy, "2017 Wind Technologies Market Report"

Email interview with spokesman for American Wind Energy Association, March 12, 2019

Email interview with Daniel Schwartz, a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Clean Energy Institute, March 12, 2019

Email interview with John Horst, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesman, March 12, 2019


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