Mississippi just got its first utility-scale wind farm

Amazon is the core customer for the 184-MW installation in Mississippi, which comes as the onshore wind industry attempts to rebound after a slow 2023.
By Maria Gallucci

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Towering wind turbines in Tunica County, Mississippi (AES Corp.)

Wind energy development has long been stuck in the doldrums in the southeastern United States. Until very recently, nine states in the region had installed precisely zero megawatts of commercial wind capacity, even as turbines spread across every other U.S. state.

Mississippi, however, has just bucked that trend.

On Tuesday, the state officially marked the opening of its first utility-scale wind farm, which began producing clean electricity last month, according to an announcement shared exclusively with Canary Media.

AES Corp. owns and operates the 184-megawatt Delta wind project in Tunica County, which is nestled in Mississippi’s northwestern corner near the borders with Arkansas and Tennessee. Tech giant Amazon is purchasing power from the 41-turbine facility to support its growing data center operations and logistics hubs in the region.

Wind projects have historically struggled to take off in the U.S. Southeast for a few key reasons, including political opposition and a lack of favorable state renewable energy policies. The region also has relatively slower wind speeds at low altitudes, especially when compared with places like the Great Plains, which has made projects less attractive economically.

But a new generation of taller and more powerful turbines is putting the Southeast’s wind resources within reach. The Delta wind project is using Vestas turbines with blades that can, at their highest point, reach 692 feet — making them the tallest onshore turbines in the country, according to AES.

As technology has improved, it’s really unlocked some areas like Mississippi that don’t have a hugely robust wind resource,” Woody Rubin, chief development officer for AES’ U.S. renewable energy business, told Canary Media. Now it’s possible to take advantage of and have a really competitive levelized cost of energy for the region.”

He added that the turbines in Tunica County are anchored to unique foundations specifically designed for support in the swampy, soft soil along the Mississippi River and to accommodate crop production.

Workers install Vestas turbines for Mississippi's first wind farm. (AES Corp.)

The $350 million wind farm spans around 14,000 acres of privately owned farmland, where fields of rice, soybeans, corn, and wheat will continue to grow under and around the turbines. Rubin said the wind farm is expected to provide $100 million in local property tax revenue over the life of the project, in a county whose economy has struggled in recent years with the decline of its casino industry.

The Delta wind project is a key part of our efforts to build a sustainable economy on the Mississippi Delta that works for everyone,” Billy Willis, the administrator for Tunica County, said in a statement. He said he hoped the landmark project can be a catalyst for accelerated renewable energy and economic development throughout the South.”

Mississippi is turning to wind power just as the larger U.S. industry is rebounding from a period of sluggish growth.

Last year, skyrocketing costs, supply chain snafus, and regulatory permitting delays all served to hinder projects. New land-based installations fell by 27 percent to 6,400 MW (6.4 gigawatts) in 2023 compared to 2022’s installations, according to Wood Mackenzie. But this year, analysts forecast that 7 GW of onshore land-based wind projects will be installed as confidence returns to the sector, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, developers are working to install hundreds of megawatts of offshore wind capacity along the U.S. East Coast.

The Delta wind farm also arrives as Amazon and other major tech companies like Google and Microsoft are backing more renewable energy projects and funding novel technologies to power their rapidly growing footprints while also meeting corporate climate goals. These companies are often attracted to the Southeast for relatively cheap land and electricity, and their investments are helping catalyze new renewable energy development in the region.

Wind turbines and irrigation ditches in Tunica County, Mississippi (AES Corp.)

Earlier this year, Amazon Web Services said it plans to invest $10 billion to build two data center complexes in Mississippi, marking the single largest capital investment in the state’s history. All told, Amazon said it’s backing 30 wind and solar projects across the Southeast that, once fully operational, will have enough total capacity to power more than 713,000 U.S. homes every year.

Along with the new 184-MW wind farm, Mississippi has installed at least 577 MW of solar power capacity — an amount that’s poised to grow significantly if the Soul City Solar project moves forward as planned near Jackson, the capital city.

Electricity from the Delta wind project will technically be delivered to the local electrical grid, providing enough power for 80,000 homes. But Amazon’s deal with AES will help offset some of the tech giant’s growing electricity demand in the region while also helping clean up the grid overall, said Rubin, who declined to disclose the value of Amazon’s power purchase agreement.

He said he hoped that Mississippi’s first wind farm can unleash more creative thinking” about how to build clean energy projects in areas that have traditionally been difficult to develop — but where power demand is set to soar.

We want to apply these lessons learned in proving the technology can work in these kinds of challenged areas,” Rubin said, adding, We’re very bullish on the region.”

Note: This piece has been updated to correct the size of the Delta wind project. It is 184 megawatts, not 484 megawatts as was initially stated to us. We regret the error. 

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.