The U.S. wind industry broke all previous records by installing nearly 10,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2009 (enough to serve over 2.4 million homes), but still lags in manufacturing, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said recently in its fourth quarter report. These new projects place wind power neck-and-neck with natural gas as the leading source of new electricity generation for the country (based on initial reports from the natural gas industry). Together, the two sources account for about 80% of the new capacity added in the country last year.
“The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all installation records in 2009, chalking up the Recovery Act as a historic success in creating jobs, avoiding carbon and protecting consumers,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “But U.S. wind turbine manufacturing-the canary in the mine-is down compared to last year’s levels and needs long-term policy certainty and market pull in order to grow. We need to set hard targets, in the form of a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), in order to provide the necessary stability for manufacturers to expand their U.S. operations and to seize the historic opportunity we have today to build up a thriving renewable energy industry.”
Early last year, before the Recovery Act (ARRA), the industry anticipated that in 2009 wind power development might drop by as much as 50% from 2008 levels, with equivalent job losses. The clear commitment by President Obama to create clean energy jobs and the swift implementation of ARRA incentives by the administration in mid-summer reversed the situation. Recovery Act incentives spurred the growth of construction, operations and maintenance, and management jobs, helping the industry to save and create jobs in those sectors and shine as a bright spot in the economy.
At the same time, the continuing lack of a long-term policy and market signal allowed investment in the manufacturing sector to drop compared to 2008, with one-third fewer wind power manufacturing facilities online, announced and expanded in 2009. The result was net job losses in the manufacturing sector, which were compounded by low orders and high inventory. Looking forward, the critical Recovery Act manufacturing incentives that were announced at the start of this year will also need to be supplemented with the hard targets of a national Renewable Electricity Standard.
With 4041 MW completed, this fourth quarter was the strongest in the year, but it was still lower than the fourth quarter of 2008. The 9922 MW installed last year expand the nation’s wind plant fleet by 39% and bring total wind power generating capacity in the U.S. to over 35,000 MW. The five-year average annual growth rate for the industry is now 39%, up from 32% between 2003 and 2008. U.S. wind projects today generate enough to power the equivalent of 9.7 million homes, protecting consumers from fuel price volatility and strengthening our energy security.
For additional details, visit www.awea.org