AWEA 2007 forecast: Good news for composites industry

U. S. wind power generating capacity increased by 27 percent in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26 percent in 2007.

U.S. wind power generating capacity increased by 27 percent in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26 percent in 2007. That, according to a market forecast released on Jan. 23 by the American Wind Energy Assn. (AWEA, Washington, D.C.) makes wind a mainstream option — one that continues to attract both private and public sources of capital.  

“Demand for electricity is beginning to eclipse our current supply,” says AWEA executive director Randall Swisher. “Wind is a proven, cost-effective source.”

The forecast is welcome news to U.S.-based composite materials suppliers. AWEA’s 2006 report notes that much of the new wind equipment used to harvest wind power in the U.S. in 2006 was produced stateside in new manufacturing facilities located in Iowa, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Gamesa Corp. (Vitoria, Spain) invested $40 million (USD) in its U.S. headquarters and blade manufacturing facility in Ebensberg, Pa.; Siemens Power Generation (Erlangen, Germany) established a 224,000-ft² (20,810m²) blade factory in Fort Madison, Iowa; and Suzlon Rotor Corp. (SRC), a subsidiary of Suzlon Energy Ltd., produced its first wind blade at its blade and turbine nose cone plant in Pipestone, Minn., in November 2006. The latter’s new 36-acre complex provides 230,000 ft² (21,368m²) of plant floor space, housing three blade molding lines. AWEA expects similar developments in 2007, noting that investment in manufacturing capability signals confidence in the market and lays the groundwork for expanded growth.

The new U.S. manufacturing sites contributed to 2,454 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2006, an investment of approximately $4 billion (USD), making wind one of the largest sources of new power generation in the country — second only to natural gas — for the second year in a row. New wind farms boosted cumulative U.S. installed wind energy capacity by 27 percent to 11,603 MW by year’s end.

New utility-scale turbines were installed in 20 U.S. states. Texas accounted for nearly one-third of the activity, taking over the lead from California in cumulative installed capacity. Texas hosts the world’s single largest wind farm, the 735-MW Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center. The top five states in new installations were Texas (774 MW), Washington (428 MW), California (212 MW), New York (185 MW) and Minnesota (150 MW).
Active wind farms in the U.S. now produce about 31 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually, enough electricity to serve 2.9 million American homes, and displace approximately 23 million tons of carbon dioxide — the leading “greenhouse” gas — that would otherwise be emitted each year by electric power sources that depend on coal, natural gas and oil.

AWEA credits continued growth, in part, to the recent extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) through December 2008. AWEA is now calling for passage of H.R. 197, which will extend the wind energy PTC for an additional five years. The PTC is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2008. The bill, if passed, will extend the PTC through Dec. 31, 2013.