Wincono Wind Farm In Larnaca Cyprus

The monthly Energy Infrastructure Update from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has become a favorite of renewable energy advocates the past few years, often showing a large proportion – and sometimes virtually all – of new electrical generation capacity coming from renewables.

There wasn’t much to crow about in April, however, and one-third of the way through 2014 renewables are now lagging behind their pace of early 2013, though there are indications things could pick up.

According to FERC data released this week, 1,361 megawatts of new capacity was installed in April, and 1,298 of that – that’s 95 percent – came from natural gas [PDF]. And nearly all of that came from Florida Power & Light’s 1,295 MW Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center, in Palm Beach County.

Riviera is one of those energy developments that might vex some climate-change warriors: On the one hand, it burns reviled fossil fuels. On the other hand, the combined-cycled natural gas plant replaces a “1960s-era oil-and-gas fired plant” and will use 33 percent less fuel per megawatt-hour of energy produced, and pump out half the carbon dioxide emissions, according to FPL.

Renewables provided the other 63 MW of new generating capacity installed in April, with solar contributing 52 MW. Most of the solar came in California’s San Joaquin Valley, in the form of the 20-MW Adobe project in Kern County and the 18-MW Westlands project in Fresno County.

Solar in the first four months of the year added 647 MW, off one-third from its total of 962 at the same point in 2013. Two important points to make here, however: Massive plants in the Southwest remain under construction – like Desert Sunlight and Topaz, each a 550 MW project in California – and as big chunks of those plants go online solar’s total will spike; and this FERC total includes only utility-scale solar – it doesn’t count the 100 MW or more of solar being added at homes and businesses every month.

Wind, meanwhile, delivered a big goose egg. That’s right, no new wind power was added in April, leaving wind’s 2014 total at 427, less than half what had been installed at this point in 2013. That was a weak year for wind, so it’s surprising to see it off the pace this year. The American Wind Energy Association has said that as of the end of last year there were “more than 12,000 megawatts across 100 wind projects in the process of getting built,” but clearly not in a hurry.

The backstory there: The production tax credit expired at the end of the year, and projects needed to be “under construction” before Jan. 1, 2014. One key test the Internal Revenue Service is using is that developers had incurred 5 percent of their costs by Jan. 1, 2014. From there, the IRS is requiring a “continuous effort” to complete the facility, and a major criterion used to judge continuity in construction will be if the facility is in service before the end of 2015. So there should be an uptick in wind, and steadily accumulating capacity additions, before too long.

In all, 1,135 MW of new renewables capacity has been added this year, compared to 2,175 MW at the same point in 2013.