US lags behind China and Europe in wind power growth

Once the most vibrant wind energy market in the world, America has installed just 1,634 megawatts of wind turbines generating systems during the first nine months of the year. Last year, the States installed a record 10,000 MW of wind farm capacity.

The 72% decrease in wind farm construction – the worst performance since 2006 – has not been helped by the last three months of activity, in which just 365 MW was installed in the 50 states, the worst quarter since 2007.

The American Wind Energy Association, which released the new figures on Friday, blamed the sluggish growth figures on the absence of a long-term policy supporting renewable electricity in the United States.

It said in particular that the failure of Congress to support a nationwide Renewable Electricity Standard, requiring all utilities to source a certain proportion of their power supplies from clean sources, was hindering investment in new wind projects.

As a result of such policies being adopted by European countries and China, the AWEA said those countries were seeing nearly four times the investment in wind power than the US – upwards of $35 billion this year alone.

Elsewhere, analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that wind turbines installations in the US would fall 39% in 2010 compared to 2009.

The analysts said the US wind farm market was still being affected by the fallout from the financial crisis, as well as the “uncertain” medium-to-long term policy situation.

They also pointed to the current low price of natural gas as making life difficult for wind project developers in negotiating attractive power purchase agreements with US utilities.

“The US remained relatively subdued in terms of all types of clean energy asset finance, not just in wind, in Q3 2010, with $4.4bn invested, down from $5.1bn in Q2,” said Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In 2009, wind power comprised 39% of new electricity-generating capacity installed in the US, with coal representing 13% of new capacity.

US Energy Information Administration data suggests that this year the situation has flipped on its head, with coal power representing 39% of new capacity, and wind accounting for just 14% of new power generation.

AWEA chief executive Denise Bode said: “We’re increasing our dependence on fossil fuels, impacting our national security, instead of diversifying our portfolio to include more renewables.

“At the same time, wind is becoming an even better deal, with up-front costs decreasing, higher-performing technology, and the certainty of a long-term stable price.