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Wind power installations up, manufacturing down, report says

January 25, 2010 |  9:00 pm


The U.S. wind power-generating industry had a banner year in 2009 with nearly 10,000 megawatts installed, though the manufacturing sector leaves much to be desired, according to a trade group report released today.

Wind facilities in the country are now capable of producing 35,159 megawatts after installations in 2009, up from 25,237 megawatts in 2008. More than 4,040 megawatts were added in the fourth quarter, according to data from the American Wind Energy Assn.

Much of the credit goes to the government, which pumped funds into wind power through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helping create construction, operations, maintenance and management jobs, the group said. Before the aid, the industry had expected wind power development to plunge as much as 50% in 2009.

The boom now makes the industry a strong competitor against natural gas as an alternative energy source, together accounting for 80% of the new generation capacity added last year in the U.S, according to the group.

The 9,922 megawatts installed last year boosted the five-year industry growth rate to 39%, up from the 32% marked between 2003 and 2008. American wind projects now generate enough power for 9.7 million homes, averting the production of about 62 million tons of carbon dioxide each year – or the equivalent of taking 10.5 million cars off the road.

But the manufacturing sector suffered net losses, enforced by low demand and backed-up inventory, as well as slow investment due to uncertain policies. Though 38 manufacturing facilities went online or were announced or expanded in 2009, that number was about a third less than in 2008.

“U.S. wind turbine manufacturing – the canary in the mine – is down compared to last year’s levels, and needs long-term policy certainty and market pull in order to grow,” Denise Bode, chief executive of the wind energy group, said in a statement.

Nationwide, Texas led with 9,410 megawatts of installed wind power, with 2,292 put in place in 2009. Iowa had 3,670 megawatts total, with 879 megawatts installed last year.

Of the 2,794 megawatts in California, just 277 were installed in 2009, including 120 megawatts installed through Pine Tree Wind Farm’s 80 new turbines in the second quarter. Projects under construction include 44 turbines that are set to produce more than 101 megawatts at Hatchet Ridge.

Of the 36 states that now have utility-scale wind installations, 14 have the ability to produce more than 1,000 megawatts.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa walk the area in the Tehachapi Mountains where the city-owned Pine Tree Wind Farm, with 80 wind-turbine generators, opened last year. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times