US wind energy industry vaults over 50 GW milestone


Newsrooms, websites and social media have been enthusiastically reporting this past week that the United States wind power sector now has installed at least 50 gigawatts of electric generating capacity.

Chuck Grassley, a Republican Senator from Iowa, said in an American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) press release that attaining 50 GW of wind energy is a milestone for the US sector. “This milestone for wind-energy production marks continued success for this clean, renewable and domestically produced energy source,” Grassley said.

Frank Lucas, a Republican Representative from Oklahoma, also called the new level of installed wind power a milestone: “It is amazing that 50,000 megawatts of our nation’s power is generated from clean and affordable wind energy,” Lucas said. “This is a very big milestone for the wind industry.”

According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), China had the most cumulative installed wind power capacity — 62,733 MW — at the end of 2011, followed by the US with 46,919 MW. Germany was in third place with 29,060 MW followed by Spain with 21,674 MW. In fifth place was India with 16,084 MW. France came in sixth with 6,800 MW, followed closely by Italy with 6,747 MW and the UK with 6,540 MW. Canada was in ninth place with 5,265 MW and Portugal came in tenth with 4,083 MW.

AWEA said the 50 GW means that US wind turbines now power the equivalent of nearly 13 million American homes. In addition, the association said the 50 GW
represents the generating power of 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear power plants, and avoids emitting as much carbon dioxide as taking 14 million cars off the road.

“American wind power reached 10 GW in 2006, 25 GW in 2008, and now has doubled that in just four more years,” AWEA said. “The last time a new energy technology ramped up to 50 GW was nuclear, in the late 1970s and early 1980s – since then, no new energy technology has been as successful as wind.”

The Production Tax Credit (PTC), the US sector’s most important tax incentive, has largely driven the rapid expansion in domestic wind power. However, the PTC is currently set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress once again votes to extend it.

“These truly are the best of times and could be the worst of times for American wind power,” said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA.

“This month we shattered the 50 GW mark, and we’re on pace for one of our best years ever in terms of megawatts installed. But because of the uncertainty surrounding the extension of the Production Tax Credit, incoming orders are grinding to a halt,” Bode said.

“Layoffs have begun up and down our American manufacturing supply chain, which the industry has so proudly built up in support of the US economy and made-in-the USA manufacturing. And when incoming orders stop, so do factories. Congress must act now to give wind energy a stable business environment to keep producing all this homegrown power, and save 37,000 American jobs by the first quarter of next year.”

Two weeks ago, the Presidential campaign for Mitt Romney said the Republican candidate would end the tax credit. President Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, has said he favours the PTC.

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