U.S. installed wind energy capacity exceeds 20,000 MW

The American Wind Energy Association says the U.S. installed capacity of wind energy systems has passed 20,000 MW, ranking the U.S. among the world's top producers of energy from wind.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA, Washington, D.C.) announced on Sept. 3 that the U.S. wind industry has moved past the 20,000-MW installed capacity milestone, achieving in two years what had previously taken more than two decades (the 10,000-MW mark was reached in 2006).  Wind now provides 20,152 MW of electricity generating capacity in the U.S., producing enough electricity to serve 5.3 million American homes or power a fleet of more than 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles.   

“Wind energy installations are well ahead of the curve for contributing 20 percent of the U.S. electric power supply by 2030 as envisioned by the U.S. Department of Energy,” said AWEA executive director Randall Swisher. “However, the looming expiration of the federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) less than four months from now threatens this spectacular progress.  The PTC has been a critical factor in wind’s very rapid growth as a part of the nation’s power portfolio.”  The PTC is currently set to expire at the end of 2008.

Swisher and other wind industry leaders noted the 20,000-MW milestone from Minneapolis, where the Republican National Convention was being held. Joining Swisher in Minneapolis were AWEA president Jim Walker, of enXco, as well as officials from other leading companies in the wind industry, including Xcel Energy, Vestas Americas A/S, Renewable Energy Systems Americas, and Horizon Wind Power.

Xcel Energy, the host utility for both the Republican convention and the Democratic National Convention held in Denver, is providing sufficient wind-generated electricity from its system to power both events. A 131-foot wind turbine blade, which has been on display at both conventions, was manufactured by wind turbine maker Vestas at a U.S. blade factory.

The 20,000 MW of wind power installed in the U.S. today can generate as much electricity every year as 28.7 million tons of coal or 90 million barrels of oil. Wind generation currently displaces 34 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 5.8 million vehicles off the road. A U.S. Department of Energy study released in May found that wind could provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030. At that level, wind power would support 500,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 140 million vehicles off the road.

The U.S. is now the world leader in wind electricity generation. While Germany has more generating capacity installed (about 23,000 MW), the U.S. is producing more electricity from wind because of its much stronger winds.  AWEA expects more than 7,500 MW of new wind capacity to be added in 2008, expanding America’s wind energy fleet by 45 percent and bringing total U.S. capacity to some 24,300 MW.

Although 20,000 MW is an important milestone, wind power provides just over 1.5% of the nation’s electricity, far below the potential identified by experts. Still, it is one of the fastest-growing electricity sources today, providing 35 percent of the total new capacity added in 2007 (second only to natural gas). The U.S. had 1,000 MW of wind power installed by 1985; 2,000 MW installed by 1999; and 5,000 MW by 2003. Its first 10,000 MW was installed by mid-2006.