US wind energy surges

In the third quarter of 2011, Colorado installed more new wind farm capacity than any other state – way more.

 According to the latest quarterly report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Colorado installed 501 megawatts from July through September, outdistancing Minnesota (163 MW), Oklahoma (130 MW), West Virginia (98 MW) and Texas (88 MW). Nationwide, 1,204 MW of capacity went in, bringing 2011 installs to 3,360 MW.

The U.S. wind turbines industry’s cumulative capacity now totals 43,461 MW. Texas leads with 10,223 MW, nearly 7,000 MW more than second-place Iowa (see map below). As of the end of July, wind power provided about 3 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the AWEA.

There is a lot more on the way, too, with 8,400 MW now under construction, the organization said. California (1,200 MW) leads in that category, followed by Oregon (800 MW), Oklahoma (700 MW) and Iowa (700 MW).

The nationwide under-construction figure is right up there with the 2008 boom times that preceded the financial-sector crash. 

But the AWEA is concerned that wind development – and the jobs that feed into it – will dry up and blow away if the federal production tax credit for wind power, set to expire at the end of 2012, isn’t soon renewed.

"Policy uncertainty has many leading wind developers saying they have no projects scheduled for 2013, which is starting to threaten both development companies and the U.S. wind energy supply chain," the AWEA said in a statement that accompanied the report. 

The group was active last year in lobbying Congress to extend the Section 1603 Treasury Program, and promised it will be working every bit as hard on the tax credit issue.

Denise Bode, the organization’s CEO, said she’ll bring a host of questions to for lawmakers when she travels to Capitol Hill: "Do you want to raise rates on consumers in a bad economy by raising taxes on wind? Do you want to be the one to say that we just shut down a new manufacturing sector, and an industry that could support 500,000 jobs in less than 20 years, just as it was getting a foothold in the U.S. market?"