Association: Record Growth In Wind Power Driven By Tax Credit, Concerns Over Fuel Price Volatility

U.S. wind energy installations now exceed 10,000 megawatts (MW) in generating capacity, and produce enough electricity on a typical day to power the equivalent of more than 2.5 million homes, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced on Aug. 14. A megawatt of wind power generates enough to serve 250 to 300 average homes.

"Wind energy is providing new electricity supplies that work for our country's economy, environment, and energy security," said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher. "With its current performance, wind energy is demonstrating that it could rapidly become an important part of the nation's power portfolio."

The record growth in wind power is driven by demand for the energy source and concerns over fuel price volatility and supply. It was also made possible by a timely renewal of the production tax credit (PTC), a federal incentive extended in the Energy Policy Act signed a year ago by President Bush. Previously, the credit had been allowed to expire three times in seven years, and this uncertainty discouraged investment in wind turbine manufacturing in the country. AWEA is calling for a long-term extension of the PTC before its scheduled expiration at the end of 2007 to avoid further "on-again-off-again" cycles and encourage long-term investment.

The industry is gaining momentum as it grows, officials said. The first commercial wind farms were constructed in California in the early 1980s, and after reaching 1,000 MW in 1985, it took more than a decade for wind to reach the 2,000-MW mark, in 1999. Since then, however, installed capacity has grown fivefold (for a chart showing historical cumulative capacity, see http://www.awea.org/faq/instcap.html). Today, the industry is installing more wind power in a single year (3,000 MW expected in 2006) than the amount operating in the entire country in 2000 (2,500 MW).

According to AWEA, environmental benefits of wind energy include:

  • Less global warming pollution: Today's 10,000 MW of wind power are keeping 16 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the leading greenhouse gas associated with global warming, out of the air every year. That's equivalent to the amount of CO2 that would be absorbed by more than 9,000 square miles of forest, an area about the size of Vermont.
  • Better air quality: If the same amount of electricity as that generated by America's 10,000-MW wind turbine fleet were instead produced using the average utility fuel mix, it would emit 73,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 27,000 tons of nitrogen oxide per year, as well as other pollutants such as mercury.

More figures and statistics on the 10,000-megawatt milestone are available on the AWEA Web site at http://www.awea.org/10GW.html.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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