U.S. Wind Energy Breaks Record with 10 GW added in 2009

By John Addison

The U.S. wind industry broke all previous records by installing 9,922 MW installed last year. This expanded the nation’s wind 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 also 39%. 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.

Wind power and natural gas are the leading sources of new electricity generation for the United States, generating 80% of new capacity, as most utilities avoid the risks of adding coal and nuclear power plants.

The 39% expansion of wind power is remarkable because many projects required hundreds of millions in long-term financing during the sever recession and time when many banks stopped lending. Also, many lenders who previously wanted production tax credits (PTC), lost money in 2009 and had no need for PTC.

There is mixed optimism about wind power’s continued growth will continue in 2010. Three GW of new wind are under construction with more projects that will be added during the year. TVA added 815 MW is a good example.

Improved price-performance of equipment is one driver. 1603 Treasury Grants (Excel spreadsheet of 240 Funded Projects), Investment Tax Credit, and other tax credit with completion deadlines will also fuel growth in 2010. RPS in 30 states is another driver.
Without new energy or climate legislation we may not see added growth of wind and other renewables. Uncertainty is a deal killer. Lack of new high-speed electricity transmission is the biggest obstacle to growth of renewables. NIMBY activism and lack of appropriate cost sharing are challenges for high-speed transmission.

Natural gas growth may surge ahead if wind growth stalls in 2010. Utilities also prefer natural gas power plants for baseload power. In the decade ahead, large-scale grid storage may make the variability of wind power less of an issue. Report about 32 new grid storage and smart grid projects.

“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 the President 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. Some 50 U.S. facilities are planning expansion, including turbine manufacturers headquartered outside the U.S., although some will need financing and greater market certainty to expand. The United States competes with Europe and Asia for wind industry job growth. In 2009, most U.S. wind projects were divided among a dozen turbine manufacturers such as General Electric, Vestas, Suzlon, Siemens, and Mitsubishi.

America’s wind power fleet will avoid an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 10.5 million cars off the road, and will conserve approximately 20 billion gallons of water annually, which would otherwise be withdrawn for steam or cooling in conventional power plants.

Texas extended its lead benefiting from strong winds and fewer regulatory hurdles than many states in the nation. Fourteen U.S. states now have over 1 GW of installed wind. The top five states by wind power installed (in MW):

Texas 9,410
Iowa 3,670
California 2,794
Washington 1,980
Minnesota 1,809
AWAE Market Report

Can wind power continue to grow? Yes. The November 2009 feature article in Scientific American reported how wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels by 2030. Recommended reading is “A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables“ by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and presents at conference.