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AWEA Reports 2012 the Strongest Year on Record for U.S. Wind Energy, Continued Success Uncertain

There's evidence that the wind's picking up, and it's not all hot air. According to a report published on October 17 by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 2012 has been a record year for the development of wind power within the United States. The U.S. wind industry has surpassed 50,000 megawatts of electrical power generation capacity, with a total of 4,728 megawatts added this year alone and another 8,430 megawatts in active development throughout 29 states and Puerto Rico.

According to the AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Third Quarter 2012 Market Report, Q3 alone saw the installation of 1,833 megawatts of wind power across 15 states. The top adopter of new installations during the third quarter was Kansas, followed closely behind by Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nevada. With more than 40,000 wind turbines supplying 51,630 megawatts of renewable energy, the U.S. is now capable of powering some 13 million homes with wind energy alone. That’s the equivalent of all of the homes in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. 

The AWEA cites a variety of factors that play heavily into the wind industry’s strong showing. One is increased manufacturing of wind turbine parts within the U.S., which has led to a drastic reduction in shipping and transportation costs. Another is improvements in technology that have made it possible for taller towers with longer blades to be built, which are in turn ushering in greater efficiency and lower cost. Yet another driving factor is the greatly increased number of electric utilities signing on for 20- to 25-year contracts in exchange for lower prices, which are then passed on to consumers. 

Possibly the most impactful of all, however, is the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable energy. According to the AWEA, the PTC is responsible for generating more than $15 billion of private investment in U.S. wind farms every year – an incentive that is set to expire on December 31 of this year if it’s not extended by Congress. 

“Whether wind will continue to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy now depends on whether Congress acts to extend the Production Tax Credit by the end of the year,” said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA, in an official press release. 

Although the clock is ticking rapidly toward that December 31 expiration date, voting for the extension of the PTC is expected to take place following the November election. An initial proposal to extend the PTC gained bipartisan support among members of the Senate Finance Committee in August, but it remains to be seen if the PTC — which was originally enacted in 1992 and has been extended and expanded numerous times since then — will see continued existence. The federal PTC offers an income tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity produced using utility-scale wind turbines.

Bode adds that a failure to extend the Production Tax Credit will likely result in lost jobs within the U.S. wind industry. “It is up to Congress to bring it to a vote or else lose 37,000 jobs by the first quarter of next year.” According to the AWEA, thousands of jobs have already been lost to layoffs in the development and manufacturing arms of wind energy, while construction continues to go strong.

Lead image: Wind turbine dusk via Shutterstock

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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