AWEA: 2009 strong for wind, but uncertainty remains

U.S. saw nearly 10,000 MW of wind power installed in 2009.

The American Wind Energy Association (Washington, D.C.) reported in its fourth quarter 2009 report on Jan. 26 that the U.S. wind industry broke all previous records by installing nearly 10,000 MW of new generating capacity in 2009 (enough to serve 2.4 million homes), but still lags in manufacturing.

These new projects place wind power with natural gas as the leading source of new electricity generation for the country. Together, the two sources account for about 80 percent of the new capacity added in the country last year, according to the report.

“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. “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. 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.”

AWEA says that early last year, before the Recovery Act (ARRA), the industry anticipated that in 2009 wind power development might drop by as much as 50 percent from 2008 levels, with equivalent job losses. The clear commitment by the president to create clean energy jobs and the swift implementation of ARRA incentives by the administration in mid-summer reversed the situation. Recovery Act incentives spurred the growth of construction, operations and maintenance, and management jobs, helping the industry to save and create jobs in those sectors and shine as a bright spot in the economy.

At the same time, the continuing lack of a long-term policy and market signal allowed investment in the manufacturing sector to drop compared to 2008, with one-third fewer wind power manufacturing facilities online, announced and expanded in 2009. The result was net job losses in the manufacturing sector, which were compounded by low orders and high inventory. Looking forward, the critical Recovery Act manufacturing incentives that were announced only at the start of this year will also need to be supplemented with the hard targets of a national Renewable Electricity Standard.  

With 4,041 MW completed, this fourth quarter was the strongest in the year but still lower than the fourth quarter of 2008. The 9,922 MW installed last year expand the nation’s wind plant fleet by 39 percent and bring total wind power generating capacity in the U.S to more than 35,000 MW. The five-year average annual growth rate for the industry is now 39 percent, up from 32 percent between 2003 and 2008. U.S. wind projects today generate enough to power the equivalent of 9.7 million homes.

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.  

In state news, Texas consolidated its lead, and Washington pulled ahead of Minnesota in the ranking of the top five states by wind power installed (in MW):

Texas, 9,410

Iowa, 3,670

California, 2,794

Washington, 1,980

Minnesota, 1,809

The Q4 report is available on AWEA’s Web site at www.awea.org/publications/reports/4Q09.pdf.A full projects map and list will be updated at www.awea.org/projects.