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U.S. wind energy grows by record 8,300 MW

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced the remarkable news today:

The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all previous records in 2008 by installing 8,358 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity (enough to serve over 2 million homes).

Half of that was brought online in the fourth quarter, and so I expect stories in big media touting how well alternative energy has been weathering the brutal economic storm — as if (see “Global recession? Must be time for the media’s alternative-energy backlash”).

Still, the AWEA report made clear that there could be tough times ahead, unless Congress takes strong action on tax credits (see “House Ways & Means embraces refundable renewable tax credits”):

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The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas, AWEA added. At year’s end, however, financing for new projects and orders for turbine components slowed to a trickle and layoffs began to hit the wind turbine manufacturing sector.

“Our numbers are both exciting and sobering,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “The U.S. wind energy industry’s performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President’s call to double renewable energy production in three years. At the same time, it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development. We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind’s promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. Quick action in the stimulus bill is vital to restore the industry’s momentum and create jobs as we help make our country more secure and leave a more stable climate for our children.”

The new wind projects completed in 2008 account for about 42% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally last year, according to initial estimates, and will avoid nearly 44 million tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking over 7 million cars off of the road.

The amount that the industry brought online in the 4th quarter alone — 4,112 MW — exceeds annual additions for every year except 2007. In all, wind energy generating capacity in the U.S. now stands at 25,170 MW, producing enough electricity to power the equivalent of close to 7 million households and strengthening our national energy supply with a clean, inexhaustible, homegrown source of energy.

Iowa, with 2,790 MW installed, surpassed California (2,517 MW) in wind power generating capacity. The top five states in terms of capacity installed are now:

-Texas, with 7,116 MW-Iowa, with 2,790 MW-California, with 2,517 MW-Minnesota, with 1,752 MW-Washington, with 1,375 MW

Oregon moved into the club of states with more than 1,000 MW installed, which now counts seven states: Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon.

About 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry today, up from 50,000 a year ago, and hold jobs in areas as varied as turbine component manufacturing, construction and installation of wind turbines, wind turbine operations and maintenance, legal and marketing services, and more. About 8,000 of these jobs are construction jobs, and a significant number of those will be lost in 2009 if financing for the pipeline of new projects is not quickly restored.

Wind power’s recent growth has also accelerated job creation in manufacturing, where the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components has grown from under 30% in 2005 to about 50% in 2008. Wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers announced, added or expanded 70 new facilities in the past two years, including over 55 in 2008 alone. Those new manufacturing facilities created 13,000 new direct jobs in 2008. However, because of the recent slowdown in orders, wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers in different parts of the country are beginning to announce layoffs.

“The hope is that provisions such as those included in the House stimulus bill to restore the effectiveness of the tax incentives for renewable energy will quickly become law and provide the capital needed to continue to build projects,” said Bode. “Because wind projects can be built quickly, positive legislation from Congress will have immediate and visible effects. Looking forward, it will also be important for the new Administration and Congress to put in place long-term, supportive renewable energy policies to make the new clean energy economy a reality.”

I do expect Congress and the President to act quickly here.

My big question at this point: Does the President’s commitment to double renewable energy over the next 3 years (presumably from 2009 through 2012) mean a doubling from the total level of renewables at the end of 2008, and thus include all this new wind (see Obama: “We will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years”)?

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