U.S. Wind Industry Sees Record-Smashing Growth in 2008; Texas, Iowa Lead Nation

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has announced its year-end results for the wind industry, and it's an exciting picture: A record 8,358 megawatts of new capacity were installed in 2008, expanding the nation's wind power generating capacity 50 percent in a single calendar year.

The fourth quarter alone saw 4,112 megawatts of new wind added -- a figure that exceeds the annual additions for every other year except 2007.

"The U.S. wind energy industry's performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President's call to double renewable energy production in three years," said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

Notably, the massive growth

  • channeled an investment of $17 billion into the economy;
  • spurred the creation of 35,000 news jobs for a total of 85,000 jobs -- a 70 percent increase over last year;
  • increased the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components from under 30 percent in 2005 to 50 percent in 2008; 
  • accounted for 42 percent of the entire new power-producing capacity added in America, with natural gas making up most of the rest; and
  • avoided nearly 44 million tons of carbon emissions -- the equivalent of taking more than seven million cars off of the road.

 

Texas remains the nation's wind power leader -- by far. Iowa beat out California for the first time to take the number two slot. The rankings of the top five states in terms of installed capacity follow:

  1. Texas, with 7,116 megawatts
  2. Iowa, with 2,790 megawatts
  3. California, with 2,517 megawatts
  4. Minnesota, with 1,752 megawatts
  5. Washington, with 1,375 meagawatts

Wind power is now, officially, a mainstream and leading option for new electricity generation in America. At the end of 2008, the generating capacity of the clean energy source hit 25,170 megawatts -- or enough electricity to power the equivalent of close to seven million US households.

But. AWEA said that by year's end "financing for new projects and orders for turbine components slowed to a trickle and layoffs began to hit the wind turbine manufacturing sector." The industry is indeed preparing for the worst:

...it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development.  We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind's promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. 

But it's hoping for the best:

"The hope is that provisions such as those included in the House stimulus bill to restore the effectiveness of the tax incentives for renewable energy will quickly become law and provide the capital needed to continue to build projects," said Bode. 

Because wind projects can be built quickly, positive legislation from Congress will have immediate and visible effects.  Looking forward, it will also be important for the new Administration and Congress to put in place long-term, supportive renewable energy policies to make the new clean energy economy a reality."

If a strong stimulus bill is what it will take to avert a major blow to the industry, then there is reason for optimism -- albeit a cautious and realistic optimism.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 598) -- introduced in the House on January 16 as part of President Obama's $825 billion economic stimulus plan -- would go a long way to bring stability to the the wind industry. Have a look at Renewable Energy World's excellent rundown of the bill for the reasons why. Here's one important piece:

The bill in its current form would help the wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sectors by extending the PTC sunset date. It would also give taxpayers (both individuals and corporate entities) the option to claim the ITC rather than the PTC for certain projects as well as give taxpayers the option to receive federal grants in lieu of claiming the ITC for certain projects.

The whole article is worth a read. In it, Gregory Wetstone, AWEA's senior director for Government and Public Affairs, explains:

"The House legislation in its current form would provide critical help to keep the wind energy industry growing and creating jobs, so we can meet President Obama's ambitious renewable energy targets.

We'll be doing everything we can to promote a comparable Senate program to monetize renewable tax incentives. Without such provisions, the legislation will not be sufficient to keep our industry growing through the economic downturn."

A separate, though similar, stimulus bill is winding its way through the Senate right now. It too allows taxpayers to claim the ITC rather than the PTC for certain projects. What's been left out, however, is the House proposal to permit taxpayers to receive cash grants from DOE in place of the ITC. That's the only real difference, but experts say it's a giant one. 

The House is expected to approve its version of the stimulus later today. Good news. Fast action -- on top of solid policy -- is vital for the wind industry right now.

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