Wind power marks 50 GW milestone

Wind capacity has passed the 50 GW mark in recent weeks, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says, doubling the amount of generation on online in only four years.

And with 10 GW currently under construction, with that work designed to beat a tax credit deadline at year’s end, the 60-GW mark should be passed by Jan. 1.

The 50 GW powers the equivalent of nearly 13 million American homes, or as many as in Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama and Connecticut combined. AWEA points out that 50 GW of wind power capacity represents the generating power of 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear power plants.

But the industry is poised for a crash as the production tax credit (PTC) expires at the end of the year, unless Congress extends it. The domestic manufacturing industry that supplies 60% of the wind turbine components is already entering a slowdown.

“This milestone for wind-energy production marks continued success for this clean, renewable and domestically produced energy source,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who authored the first PTC. “Wind energy has exceeded expectations since I first authored the tax incentive, in 1992, and offers an ideal for expanded production and use of alternative energy sources in the future.”

Among the projects that contributed to crossing the threshold of 50 GW are projects newly connected to the power grid in Nevada, Oklahoma, Idaho, California, Hawaii and Iowa. They include:

  • Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley wind farm, 30 miles east of Ely, Nev., (151.8 MW)
  • Enel Green Power North America’s Rocky Ridge wind farm in Okla., (148.8 MW)
  • enXco’s Pacific Wind project in Kern County, Calif., (140 MW)
  • Utah Associated Municipal Power’s Horse Butte project in Idaho, (57.6 MW)
  • First Wind’s Kaheawa Wind II wind farm in Hawaii, (21 MW)

American wind power reached 10 GW in 2006, 25 GW in 2008, and now has doubled in four years.

“These truly are the best of times and could be the worst of times for American wind power,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “This month we shattered the 50-GW mark, and we’re on pace for one of our best years ever in terms of megawatts installed. But because of the uncertainty surrounding the extension of the production tax credit, incoming orders are grinding to a halt.”

The U.S. wind industry installed 1,695 MW of capacity in the first quarter, one of its best quarters on record and easily the best January-March period, as developers rushed to get projects built before the key subsidy expires. The industry added more than 1,100 MW in the second quarter, bringing the 2012 total to more than 2,800 MW.

AWEA reports that more than 10,000 MW of wind farms were under construction at the quarter’s end, an all-time record.