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As Expected, U.S. Wind Installations Down 50% in 2010

Hurt by falling natural gas prices, low demand for power and lack of a long-term renewable energy target, the American wind industry saw installations fall almost 50% last year, according to figures released by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Wind developers constructed 5,115 MW of wind capacity in 2010, down from 10,000 MW in 2009. Activity has already increased, however; AWEA reports that 5,600 MW of projects are already in the construction phase in 2011.

The new activity was spurred by an extension of the Treasury Grant Program, which allowed developers to take a cash payment for 30% of equipment costs in lieu of the production tax credit. AWEA projects installed wind capacity to grow in 2011 compared to 2010.

The tough year for wind in America caused the country to slip in the global standings; The U.S. now has 40,180 MW of wind capacity – 620 MW short of China's overall capacity.

Although it's been harder for companies to sign power purchase agreements with utilities, wind is an increasingly important piece of the generation picture in many states with Renewable Portfolio Standards. Here's AWEA's breakdown of top states developing wind power:

Texas – 10,085 MW

Iowa – 3,675 MW

California – 3,177 MW

Minnesota – 2,192 MW

Washington – 2,105 MW

Texas, the leading wind power state in America for several years running, achieved a major milestone by surging past the 10,000-megawatt mark for total installations, a quarter of all wind capacity in the U.S., with the addition of 680 MW in 2010. Known as the hub of the oil-and-gas industry, Texas achieved the mark thanks to aggressive pursuit of renewable energy and a renewable electricity standard passed in 1999 and strengthened in 2005. On average, wind now generates 7.8% of the electricity in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) which covers most of the state, peaking as high as 25%.

Other states active in pursuing targets for renewable energy last year were Illinois (498 MW added), California (455 MW), South Dakota (396), and Minnesota (396 MW). Five more states, which generally began tapping their inexhaustible wind resources more recently than the leaders, showed growth rates above 100%.

With the addition of Delaware and Maryland, 38 states now have utility-scale wind projects, and 14 of those have now installed more than 1,000 MW of wind power.

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