Despite a recent slowdown in wind energy production in the United States, the industry is still growing and now has enough projects to power a record 19 million homes, according to data released Monday by the American Wind Energy Association. The latest record of 70 gigawatts of wind energy generation through 50,000 turbines was achieved in November, but documented this week, according AWEA, the national trade association for the U.S. wind industry. This announcement suggests a turning point for an industry that had been struggling.
While it achieved 50 and then reached 60 gigawatts of energy generation in 2012, the industry stalled as uncertainty over whether tax credits would expire in 2012 — as they did — dissuaded investors.
In 2013, Congress gave tax credits a one year extension giving some oxygen to the industry that however suffered a 92 percent drop of installations that year. After some setbacks last year, the industry still showed signs of improvement, according to a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which reported in August that $8.3 billion were invested in new capacity additions.
“There’s now enough wind power installed to meet the equivalent of total electricity demand in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming,” said Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, in a statement.
Still, wind energy currently meets less than 5 percent of the nation’s electricity demand, although wind energy prices have reached all-time lows. According to the Berkeley Lab study, wind turbine prices have fallen as much as 40 percent from their highs back in 2008. Wind turbine projects continue to be capital intensive projects however, which explains why the industry has for years pushed for tax incentives.
For instance, a 112 turbine project in Imperial Valley, California, cost around $600 million about three years ago.
But while the industry has been facing harmful uncertainty over tax credits, earlier this month it achieved a victory that could give it a boost in the coming years. Last week, Congress approved multiyear tax credits for renewable energy that may create the stability that wind energy wants.
Whether credits translate into more wind energy generation remains to be seen, as design and approval of wind turbine projects can be a lengthy process that studies say stir protests over alleged health and environmental concerns.
Such contention may in part explain why the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a December report that utility-scale solar capacity is expected to grow much more than wind energy. Solar is expected to show an increase of 123 percent between the end of 2014 and the end of 2016. Wind energy, meanwhile, grew by 8 percent in 2014, and it is forecast to increase by 13 percent this year, and by 14 percent in 2016.