US wind power boom could end this year

Despite a doubling of wind power capacity in the US in 2001, all pending wind power projects could be shelved, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) fears.

The US wind energy industry installed nearly 1,700 MW, or US$1.7 billion worth of new generating equipment in 16 states last year, according to the AWEA, more than double the previous record year. Wind power is now on target to provide 6% of the country’s electricity by 2020, says AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher.

“2001 was an astonishing year for our industry in the US,” said Swisher. “More new wind generation was installed in a single state – Texas (over 900 MW) – than had ever been installed in the entire country in a single year. We are finally beginning to tap into wind energy’s enormous potential.”

Pending wind power projects for 2002 are also due to produce a repeat performance in the record books.

However, the future of wind energy in the US has now been thrown into doubt, says the AWEA, by the expiration of a key incentive – the federal wind production tax credit (PTC) at the end of December last year. Congress failed to renew the tax credit due to a partisan battle over economic stimulus legislation, of which the PTC was a part.

“There are hundreds of megawatts’ worth of wind power projects, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in states like Montana, Oregon, South Dakota and West Verginia, which will not go forward this year unless Congress reinstates the wind energy Production Tax Credit early in this year’s session,” said Vice President of Development for wind developer Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp, Samuel E Enfield. “This has to be done in a timely basis, if we are to be able to plan for and order the long-lead-time capital equipment that will go into these projects.”

“These projects aren’t just important to helping maintain the growth of the wind power industry, which has been the fastest-growing energy industry in the world over the past decade,” added Enfield. “These projects are also important to the hundreds of people who will be involved in their construction and the dozens of operations personnel they will employ on a permanent basis. These projects are important to rural economies across the nation, where farmers and ranchers will share in the income they generate. Not least of all, they represent the cleanest form of cost-effective electric generation available to the nation.”

New wind farms developed in 2001 will generate approximately US$5 million in payments to landowners per year and create 200 skilled long-term jobs, says the AWEA.

Fortunately, the current absence of the PTC could only be a temporary problem, according to the AWEA. “Our lobbyists tell us that they are pretty confident that it will be re-established this year,” an AWEA spokesperson told edie.

Last week it was revealed that global growth in wind energy in 2001 is predicted to have been around 31% (see related story).

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie