US wind power shows strong growth in 2011

Wind energy continues to power ahead in the US. 

Recent numbers from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) show that the fourth quarter of 2011 saw wind power expanding into new states like Ohio and Nevada, while continuing to experience strong growth in the existing wind energy markets of California, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas.

Two states – South Dakota and Iowa – are now generating 20 percent of their electricity with wind power.

Overall, the US wind industry installed just over 6,810 megawatts (MW) in 2011 – 31 percent more than was installed in 2010. While California topped the list, with 921 MW installed last year, the big star of 2011 was Illinois.

The state was second in new wind power capacity, and overthrew Minnesota for the No. 4 spot in terms of cumulative installed wind power capacity. This was the only change in the top 10 states from 2010.

With more than 8,300 MW under construction in 31 states, AWEA says the industry is positioned for another strong showing in 2012. Kansas tops the list of projects under construction, with more than 1,188 MW of wind scheduled to come online in 2012—followed by Texas, California, Oregon and Illinois. 

Ohio earns the title of fastest-growing wind power state. With 101.5 MW installed in 2011, the state showed a growth rate of over 900 percent. Other fast-growing markets include Vermont, Massachusetts, Idaho and Maryland. More information about the fourth quarter market report can be found here.

Wind industry advocates credit the industry’s continued growth to the federal production tax credit (PTC), which has leveraged more than $16 billion per year in private investment, and supported tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the last several years. The PTC is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.

A recent report commissioned by the AWEA and put together by Navigant Consulting found that the US wind industry would lose 37,000 jobs and a nearly two-thirds drop in private investment if Congress allows the PTC for wind to expire. Indeed, Xcel Energy, the nation’s top wind power provider, has already threatened to reevaluate its plans if the PTC is allowed to expire.

Representatives Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have introduced legislation granting a four-year extension to the existing PTC for wind energy.

Their “American Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit Extension Act” has received bipartisan support from governors and a nonpartisan coalition of manufacturing, farm and business interests.

“In hard economic times, we’re creating jobs and delivering clean, affordable electricity,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

“But we will lose all these consumer benefits and a brand new, growing manufacturing sector if Congress allows the Production Tax Credit to expire. Businesses need certainty. That is why it is urgent that Congress extend the PTC now, before the end of the first quarter, or risk losing a bright new manufacturing sector to foreign countries.”

* Lauren Craig, EarthTechling