Despite significant challenges in 2010, the U.S. wind energy industry continued to make good on its promise to strengthen America, and laid the foundation for a strong return in 2011. As the year closed, industry leaders appealed to Washington to adopt a long-term energy plan so the benefits of wind power can continue for decades to come.
"While the industry saw the all-too-real impacts of having no long-term U.S. policies toward renewable energy, the industry nevertheless made significant advances in 2010," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.
"Wind power supply chain manufacturers continued to announce new U.S. plants despite an uncertain economic climate. The industry reached over 50 percent domestic content for turbines installed in the U.S. In addition, advances were made in regional transmission plans, the market for smaller wind turbines grew 15%, and offshore wind farm took major steps on the path to the first U.S. installations.
"And, utility-scale wind energy achieved the milestone of supplying 20 percent of the electricity in Iowa-an achievement reached right in America’s heartland. That shows how large amounts of wind power can be integrated into the nation’s energy mix. We continue to work toward the goal of supplying 20 percent of electricity nationwide by 2030, the target set under the administration of President George W. Bush."
The year 2010 closed out with Congress extending by one more year the Section 1603 Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy, a policy which helped the industry emerge as a bright spot in the U.S. economy and keep 85,000 Americans working even at the depth of the recession.
Bode also pointed out, however, that wind power’s growing stature within the group of mainstream electricity sources has drawn fire from other industries. "In 2010, fossil fuel-funded attacks put U.S. incentives for wind power at risk," Bode said. "Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page has been running a series of one-sided challenges to renewable energy, while overlooking all the negative effects of conventional sources, including their enormous costs to taxpayers. And America fell to third place in wind installations behind China and the European Union, both of which have implemented long-term policies to provide a stable environment for wind power to operate."
Here is the year in U.S. wind energy in more detail:
America ebbs as China flows. The numbers posted by the U.S. wind industry in the third quarter of 2010 made for its slowest quarter since 2007. Once the year’s final numbers are tallied, they are expected to show that China installed approximately three times as much wind-powered electricity as the U.S. in 2010, and Europe twice as much, as U.S. installations fell to just over half of 2009. Factors in the U.S. decline included an absence of long-term U.S. energy policies (such as a Renewable Electricity Standard), resulting in an unstable business environment, and utilities being less eager to enter wind energy power purchase agreements.
Manufacturing fires up. In 2010, URV USA began work on a new facility in Eaton Rapids, MI, that features a next-generation casting process to produce large, utility-scale wind turbine components. A new Siemens nacelle assembly facility in Hutchinson, Kan., was also announced; that plant will employ close to 500 Americans. (The nacelle includes the turbine itself, and is the most valuable part of wind installations, which also require towers and blades.) A new Nordex nacelle assembly facility came online in Little Rock, Ark., and Alstom announced an assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas. Those are just a few of the wind energy manufacturing announcements in 2010. Over 400 U.S. plants now serve the industry, and they are located in every region of the country, from the Midwest to the Southeast.
States continue wind farm leadership. Driven by state renewable energy targets, as many as 14 states have installed over 1,000 MW of wind, and a total of 37 states now have at least some utility-scale wind power installed within their borders. Iowa, which passed one of the country’s earliest renewable generation laws, got an estimated 20 percent of its electricity from wind in 2010, an increase from 14 percent in 2009, and on Oct. 28, strong winds pushed wind power to 25 percent of the electrical generation in Texas. Meanwhile, Oregon took the lead in adding the most capacity in the third quarter, the spot historically filled by Texas, where the industry now awaits an impending transmission build-out. With 111 MW installed in the third quarter, Indiana moved into the top-10 bracket for leading wind power states.
Americans want wind. U.S. wind energy remained as popular as ever with the American voter in 2010. A Harris poll in October 2010 found 87 percent of Americans want more wind energy, bearing out results in April 2010 from a bipartisan team of pollsters who found 89 percent support for more wind energy, including 84 percent of Republicans. And every time a referendum has been held on renewable energy, voters resoundingly say they want more, not less. That was the case in California during the midterm elections this fall, when Proposition 23 went down to a lopsided defeat, as it was in Colorado, Missouri, and Washington before-wherever state Renewable Portfolio Standards have come up for votes.
Fed, regions lay groundwork for transmission. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a proposal by the grid operator in the Midwest, the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), that creates a new regime for paying for needed transmission infrastructure. Building new transmission promises to not only foster wind energy development but improve reliability and reduce homeowners’ and businesses’ electric bills.
Offshore wind marches forward. After nearly a decade of red tape, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the go-ahead to U.S.’s first offshore wind project in April. In October, at the North American Offshore Wind Conference & Exhibition, hosted by AWEA and the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Salazar and Cape Wind Associates, LLC, signed the nation’s first lease for commercial offshore wind energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf. Demonstrating the growing interest in offshore wind energy in the U.S, AWEA announced the formation of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition (OffshoreWindDC), which focuses on advocacy and education efforts to promote offshore wind development.
Trade association evolves with education seal. Unveiling a quality assurance mechanism that promises to help advance the wind power industry, AWEA established a "Seal of Approval" for job training for wind turbine service technicians. The AWEA Seal of Approval program assesses whether educational and training institutions with technician programs are teaching the skills that an entry-level service technician needs, as identified by experts among AWEA’s 2,500 company members.
Distributed wind and community wind grow. AWEA’s 2010 Small Wind Turbine Global Market Study found that despite an economic downturn, the U.S. market for small wind turbines-those with rated capacities of 100 kilowatts (kW) and less-grew 15% in 2009 with 20.3 Megawatts (MW) of new capacity and $82.4 million in sales. This growth equates to nearly 10,000 new units and pushes the total installed capacity in the U.S. to 100 MW. The industry is growing at a healthy rate and business prospects are improving.
AWEA conferences demonstrate broad support. President George W. Bush kicked off WINDPOWER 2010 in Dallas last May with a message of perseverance and determination, which rallied the crowd of over 20,000 to action and enthusiasm. The conference is now the largest energy show in the country and brought the "think tank" of the industry together, along with political leaders and corporate decision makers. General Colin Powell (Ret.) gave an impressive speech to over 700 attendees at AWEA’s Fall Symposium in Phoenix last month, on "Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust, and Values," elaborating on the symposium theme of building strong relationships.
Federal policy win. America and the wind energy industry achieved a major victory near the end of the year with the extension of the Section 1603 renewable energy tax credit program, which is projected to increase wind project installations by roughly 50 percent each year, in addition to fostering the continued growth of other clean energy industries.
The program provides a way to use tax credits – something that oil and gas industries do through Master-Limited Partnerships, but those are not available to renewable energy. And while Congress did not succeed in passing a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), the policy proved its popularity by achieving strong bipartisan support. In 2011, AWEA will work to introduce new Members of Congress to the wind industry and the benefits and job creation possibilities of such a policy. A national RES will create the market certainty that manufacturers need to invest more resources in wind power, enabling the U.S. to become a wind turbine manufacturing powerhouse and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.