By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
The US wind industry will finish 2009 ahead of projections for wind installations, though the numbers will still fall behind the industry’s record-breaking year in 2008.
“It’s not a bad year given the financial crisis,” said Liz Salerno, director of industry data and analysis at the American Wind Energy Association, in a news conference this week.
The US is expected to have installed about 7,000 new megawatts of wind energy in 2009, falling short of the 8,500 megawatts of 2008, but ahead of analysts’ predictions for the year and ahead of 2007’s installations.
With 31,000 megawatts of wind power online, the US currently leads the world in wind energy development, ahead of China, which is fast developing wind power, and traditional leader Germany.
The AWEA attributes the strong showing in 2009 to grant money provided by the US government, which allowed wind entrepreneurs and developers to show lenders they had seed money for projects. That helped companies secure credit, which was difficult in the wake of the financial fallout of late 2008, Salerno said.
“We know things were tough, and it was very difficult to get a deal done earlier in this year. But what we’re hearing from our wind community is that things are slowly being unlocked.”
Some private capital has helped fund projects as well, and utilities, which are able to access lower cost money, also continue to move into the wind market, she said.
Companies developing installations include large and small firms, including General Electric, Vestas, Siemens, Suzlon, Gamesa, Clipper, Mitsubishi, Acciona and Repower.
To keep wind aloft, advocates say a consistent and dependable national policy will be needed; keeping projects in the pipeline will require continued federal incentives, either as grants or production tax credits.
The AWEA also wants Congress to pass a strong Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), a measure that would require states to produce/obtain a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar or geothermal power.
A strong RES, combined with continued investment incentives, would send a signal to developers and the world that the US was committed to wind power and would buoy developers on the wind generation side, as well as the manufacturing sector related to wind, Salerno explained.
US wind parts manufacturers have experienced a slowdown with the 2009 global recession, she said.
“We can’t ignore the fact that we are competing with other countries for these manufacturing facilities and for these jobs…We have to step up and show that the US is a good place to do business compared to other countries.”
Congress also needs to invest in new transmission lines to get wind from outlying areas to population centers. Coupled with a strong RES, that would demonstrate the public commitment that the wind business has been seeking for years.
“Having a stable market in place,” she said, “will be the foundation for growing wind.”
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