US adds 5,115 MW of wind energy in 2010, half of 2009 pace
With wind energy becoming cost-competitive with natural gas for new electric generation, the feast-or-famine, boom-and-bust cycle of wind energy development in the United States is poised to move into a growth phase at the beginning of 2011, according to industry officials.
The U.S. added 3,195 megawatts (MW) of wind generated electricity in the fourth quarter of 2010, a sharp increase from the 670 MW of new capacity added in the third quarter. But the 5,115-MW total for the year was still only half of what the industry added in its 2009 record year, according to a report issued today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
“Wind power is a great deal right now in many areas of the country,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “However, our industry continues to endure a boom-bust cycle because of the lack of long-term, predictable federal policies, in contrast to the permanent entitlements that fossil fuels have enjoyed for 90 years or more."
The wind industry received good news in the final days of the 111th Congress, when a one-year extension of the 1603 Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy was passed, getting things moving in a positive direction for 2011. And with over 5,600 MW of electric power currently under construction and more projects expected to start up in time to meet the new construction deadline for the tax credit, now set to expire at the end of 2011, industry analysts are in good spirits.
“Wind’s costs have dropped over the past two years, with power purchase agreements being signed in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour recently,” said Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA Director of Industry Data & Analysis. “With uncertainty around natural gas and power prices as the economy recovers... we expect that utilities will move to lock in more wind contracts, given the cost-competitive nature of wind in today’s market.”
With uncertainty over national policies still tempering growth in the U.S. wind energy sector, state-level renewable energy requirements are driving wind energy development in many parts of the country. But the industry is still pushing for more robust federal action. “We’ll continue to work for a strong federal energy policy that drives the deployment of renewable energy technologies in the 112th Congress,” Bode said, “but we’ll also be defending and improving on state renewable targets, as well as promoting other sources of demand – such as more distributed and community wind projects, and corporate purchasing under the new WindMade trustmark.”
The AWEA market report also found that for the first time, U.S. capacity fell to second globally behind China. China now has 41,800 MW in operation, an increase of 62% in capacity over a year ago. Total U.S. wind capacity is now 40,180 MW, an increase of 15% over the start of 2010. And at the rate China is expand wind energy capacity, there's a good chance that the U.S. will never hold that title again.