Wind energy industry growing quickly

The U.S. wind energy industry appears set this year to shatter the previous record for installation of new projects, generating clean power and creating new jobs from New York to Arizona, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said in late April.

In its quarterly market outlook estimate, the trade group nudged its 2005 forecast for the expanding industry from "over 2,000 megawatts (MW)" of new capacity upward to "up to 2,500 MW," based on a private survey of wind turbine manufacturer plans. A megawatt of wind capacity generates about as much electricity as is used by 250-300 households, so the new forecast translates to the equivalent of approximately 700,000 homes.

AWEA executive director Randall Swisher called the forecast "excellent news," adding, "We are seeing a series of positive trends, from new major players entering the industry to strong economic activity in hard-hit rural areas, and we continue to press for a timely long-term extension of the federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC) so that this latest boom can continue." The PTC expires at the end of this year, and Congress has previously allowed it to expire three times before renewal, each time creating uncertainty about the industry's future, Swisher said.

AWEA views wind energy as one of the most promising new sources of manufacturing jobs for the 21st century, and notes that evidence of that aspect of its growth is widespread:

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell (D) announced in January that Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa will build a turbine blade manufacturing plant in his state. The firm also plans to locate its U.S. headquarters and East Coast development offices in Philadelphia, and with construction, operation and maintenance, its activities are expected to lead to 1,000 new jobs in the Keystone State over the next five years.
  • Blade manufacturer LM Glasfiber, which has added 100 new jobs at its Fargo, N.D., plant since the PTC was extended in October 2004, said recently that it hopes to hire 40-50 more workers by June.
  • Turbine manufacturer Vestas-American Wind Technology is also currently advertising for 100 new positions.
  • A report issued in March by the New York State Comptroller's office said that state's new requirement that electric utilities boost the amount of power they obtain from wind and other renewable energy sources from 20 percent today to 25 percent by 2013 could create 43,000 new jobs in manufacturing and energy industries and through related increased economic activity. Gov. George Pataki (R) originally proposed the requirement in 2003.
  • Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), calling in his February State of the State message for 3,000 MW of new wind farms to be built in Illinois by 2012, said the move "could mean 1,000 new jobs over the next two years."
  • Wind projects now under construction, and jobs resulting from them, include: Maple Ridge Wind Farm (N.Y.), 300 jobs; Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center (Tex.), 130 jobs; Velva (N.D.), 50 jobs; two plants in Iowa for MidAmerican Energy, 250 jobs; and many more.

"More states are looking seriously at wind energy these days as an engine of economic development," Swisher commented, "and what they are seeing confirms a major study released last fall by the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP). It reported that boosting wind energy from 6,000 MW to 50,000 MW nationwide would create 150,000 manufacturing jobs.

The new market forecast, AWEA said, means the U.S. wind industry is within striking distance of exceeding its previous record year (2001, with 1,696 MW) by 50 percent. 2,544 MW of new capacity would be needed to reach that mark.

A state-by-state listing of existing and proposed wind energy projects is available on AWEA's Web site at http://www.awea.org/projects/index.html.

Source: Renewable Energy Policy Project, "Wind Turbine Development: Location of Manufacturing Activity," 2004. The full report is available on the REPP Web site at http://www.repp.org/articles/static/1/binaries/WindLocator.pdf.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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