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By Samuel R. Avro on Jan 26, 2010 with no responses

Stimulus Saves U.S. Wind Industry, Sets Installation Records in 2009

Stimulus saves the day, but wind turbine manufacturing difficulties remain

Wind power is the leading source of new electricity generation in the U.S. along with natural gas.

The U.S. wind industry installed nearly 10,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2009 (the equivalent of powering 2.4 million homes), breaking all previous records, according to a report released today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

“The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all installation records in 2009, chalking up the Recovery Act as a historic success in creating jobs, avoiding carbon, and protecting consumers,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

The industry was expecting a severe drop-off in wind development –as much as 50% from 2008 levels– followed by thousands of job losses, until it got a much needed shot in the arm with the funds it received from the federal government via the Recovery Act.

Nearly 2,000 operations and maintenance jobs were created by the new installations.

The total U.S. wind power generating capacity now stands at 35,000 MW, up 39% from 2008, and can now provide power to 9.7 million homes.

Texas (9,410 MW) consolidated it’s large lead amongst as the state with the most wind power installed. Iowa (3,670) was next, followed by California (2,794), Washington (1980) and Minnesota (1,809).

Wind turbine manufacturing, however, is still lagging, and many in the industry worry that it’s already slowing the industry’s expansion plans.

“But U.S. wind turbine manufacturing – the canary in the mine — is down compared to last year’s levels, and needs long-term policy certainty and market pull in order to grow,” said Bode. “We need to set hard targets, in the form of a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), in order to provide the necessary stability for manufacturers to expand their U.S. operations and to seize the historic opportunity we have today to build up a thriving renewable energy industry.”

The vast market for wind energy was evidenced in a detailed study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) which concluded that with a large infusion of funds to upgrade the transmission infrastructure and installation of new wind projects, the eastern power grid could conceivably get 20% of its supply from wind by 2024.

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” David Corbus, project manager for the study, said in a statement.  “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the Midwest, offshore wind in the East or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.”

The eastern grid extends from the Plains states to the Atlantic states and down to the Gulf of Mexico.

As it stands now, America’s wind power fleet will avoid an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 10.5 million cars off the road, and will conserve approximately 20 billion gallons of water annually, which would otherwise be withdrawn for steam or cooling in conventional power plants, according to the AWEA.