Wind Power Grows 39% for the Year in U.S.: 9,900 MW. Total capacity hit more than 35,000 MW

The combined power generating capacity of new U.S. wind turbines installed last year hit more than 9,900 megawatts, up from a gain of over 8,400 MW in the previous year. Total wind power capacity hit more than 35,000 MW, or about enough to power 9.7 million homes, the American Wind Energy Association said.

Nationwide, Texas led with 9,410 megawatts of installed wind power, with 2,292 put in place in 2009. Iowa had 3,670 megawatts total, with 879 megawatts installed last year.

Of the 2,794 megawatts in California, just 277 were installed in 2009, including 120 megawatts installed through Pine Tree Wind Farm’s 80 new turbines in the second quarter. Projects under construction include 44 turbines that are set to produce more than 101 megawatts at Hatchet Ridge.

Of the 36 states that now have utility-scale wind installations, 14 have the ability to produce more than 1,000 megawatts. Nationwide, the wind-power industry employs about 85,000 people, the same number as a year ago after it gained 13,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008, says Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.

Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets, the American wind power industry grew at a blistering pace in 2009, adding 39 percent more capacity. The country is close to the point where 2 percent of its electricity will come from wind turbines.

While that is still a small share, it is up from virtually nothing a few years ago. Continued growth at such a fast pace could help the nation lower its emissions of the gases that cause global warming.

The American Wind Energy Association, in its annual report to be released on Tuesday, said the amount of capacity added last year, 9,900 megawatts, was the largest on record, and was 18 percent above the capacity added in 2008, also a banner year.

The AWEA said the growth of wind power was helped by the federal stimulus package that passed a year ago, which extended a tax credit and provided other investment incentives for the industry.

But AWEA warned that the growth could slow. Much of the wind energy development in 2009 was caused by momentum from 2008, as huge wind turbines ordered then were delivered to wind farms. In 2009, the recession idled many manufacturers and new orders weakened, which could portend an installation slowdown this year.

Only 38 wind turbine component manufacturing plants were built or expanded last year, down from 55 in 2008. In addition, several wind turbine companies announced layoffs last year, including at plants in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

Bode estimates that the wind industry lost between 1,500 and 2,000 manufacturing jobs last year but gained an equal number in wind farm construction and maintenance.

Manufacturers also suffered because they had big inventory levels last year, Bode says. Over the longer term, wind turbine makers have expressed reluctance to build plants in the USA because it lacks a national standard to increase the use of renewable energy sources, Bode says.

Legislation in Congress has proposed the United States get 15% to 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, along with increased efficiencies. On the local level, 29 states have their own requirements to get more of their energy from renewable sources, and six states have set goals.

The nation’s wind energy industry provides about 2% of the USA’s electricity. That could rise to 20% in the eastern USA by 2024 if enough money is invested in transmission lines and the power grid, said a study recently released by the Department of Energy.

“The U.S. wind industry shattered all installation records in 2009, and this was directly attributable to the lifeline that was provided by the stimulus package,” said Denise Bode, the trade association’s chief executive. “The second half of the year was extraordinary. But manufacturers didn’t see much growth because they had built up so much inventory.”

About as much new power generating capacity came from wind power as from natural gas last year, Ms. Bode said. Together, new wind energy and natural gas projects accounted for about 80 percent of all new generating capacity added in the country.

The wind energy industry has undergone rapid growth in recent years. Since 2002, the country’s installed base of wind turbines has jumped almost sevenfold.

Even so, the American industry has lagged behind Europe, which gets about 5 percent of its electricity from wind. The European Commission has set an ambitious mandate to achieve 20 percent of electrical production from wind and other renewable sources by 2020. Denmark has essentially achieved that goal already, and sometimes produces more wind power than it can use.

Last year, China also outlined plans to more than double the country’s wind power capacity by the end of this year by investing $14.6 billion, with rapid growth planned through the end of the decade.

Concerns about global warming have sparked interest in renewable power in the United States and spurred the creation of a domestic manufacturing industry that now employs 85,000 people. Today, about half the components used in wind farms are made in the United States, compared with 25 percent in 2004, the trade group said.

Much of the growth is attributable to state laws that mandate that a portion of the local power come from renewable sources. But many hurdles remain in getting to 10 or 20 percent wind power nationally.

Wind investors have called for long-distance transmission lines between the nation’s wind-intensive regions, mostly in the Great Plains and Texas, and its biggest population centers, mostly on the coasts. The lack of such transmission is seen as a major obstacle to further expansion.

Still, the potential for wind power is enormous. By 2020, wind’s installed capacity could be five times higher than it is today, reaching about 180,000 megawatts.

The industry has also called on Congress to pass a federal mandate requiring that a certain percentage of power come from renewable sources. Such mandates are already in place throughout the European Union and in China. In the United States, 29 states have adopted such a renewable power standard.

“The wind manufacturing sector has the potential to employ many more Americans in green jobs, but without a renewable electricity standard to provide a long-term market, the sector will be slow to grow,” the trade group said in its report. The nation’s wind turbines generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 9.7 million homes, according to AWEA.