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Apr 082010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Wind energy grew in the U.S. in 2009, despite the economic downturn, adding jobs, turbines and enough new power to run 2.4 million homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s annual report released Thursday.

masthd_newsThe wind sector installed more than 10,000 Megawatts of new wind power capacity in 2009, experiencing its largest growth and keeping America at the top of the list of wind-generating nations worldwide.

But the U.S. will not remain a leader in the global race to build wind power,  unless the federal government passes clear targets for renewable energy that will encourage and support the industry, several experts warned at a news conference releasing the report.

Other countries have promised to make clean energy a certain percentage of their energy mix within  10 to 15 years, but the U.S., where Congress has not enacted a climate or energy security bill, does not offer its clean energy businesses that assurance, they said.

Specifically, the industry needs both the positive signal of a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which would designate a clean energy target and stable tax incentives for wind development, instead of short term production tax credits that have left the industry in doubt in the past, said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. These two measures, the RES and the tax credits, both of which are part of current climate legislation under consideration in the U.S. Senate, would boost domestic wind investment, production and jobs, and keep America competitive in the world market for wind turbines, she said.

Without such a U.S. commitment, “we’re operating with one hand tied behind our back,” Bode said.

Until recently, the U.S. was the clear leader in wind energy development, said Don Furman, a senior vice president at Iberdrola Renewables and AWEA board member. But China is poised to become number one, with phenomenal growth both in wind production and turbine manufacture. Europe also is moving forward with major offshore wind projects with the full support of the British, German and other governments.

“We feel very, very good about this (2009) report and our growth in the industry,’’ Furman said. “But here’s the big point, we (the U.S.) used to own this industry…today most of the manufacturing is overseas.”

Here are some of the highlights of the 2009 report:

  • Wind energy now supplies 1.8 percent of the power in the U.S. with a total capacity of 35,086 MegaWatts.
  • Wind energy is diversifying in the U.S. with 36 states now having “utility-scale” wind projects and 14 states having more than 1,000 Megawatts of installed wind capacity – making them part of what the AWEA calls the “Gigawatt Club”
  • Iowa is the leader in the percentage of wind power that it uses with wind making up 14 percent of its power. It also has the highest number of jobs in the manufacturing sector. 
  • Texas remains the leader among states in total wind capacity installed, with nearly 10,000 Megawatts of installed power. It is followed by Iowa, California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and Illinois, New York, Colorado and North Dakota.
  • Ten new manufacturing plants were opened in the U.S. in 2009, 20 were announced and nine more were expanded, heralding a near-boom in wind-related jobs, which now number 85,000 in the U.S. Manufacturing jobs include those making and repairing wind turbines and their components; other wind jobs include those establishing and operating wind farms and wind companies. All 50 U.S. states now have some jobs in the wind sector.
  • America’s total wind power fleet — which now has 35,000 MW of capacity — will avoid an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That’s akin to taking 10.5 million cars off the road.
  • Demand for small wind systems also grew, by 15 percent, in 2009, despite the economic downturn. Seven small wind turbine manufacturers opened their doors or were announced.

To learn more about wind power and the proposed RES, you can visit the The Power of Wind, which is AWEA’s online campaign to promote the wind industry, which it bills as the cleanest of all power sources (independent experts generally agree) because it uses a renewable source, can be developed domestically and does not deplete water supplies.

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