According to the industry group American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. wind power industry not only had its best year ever in 2012, but exceeded natural gas in the installation of new electric generating capacity. The $25 billion in private investment alone wind energy projects attracted produced over 13,000 megawatts (MW) of new wind power capacity last year–an estimate that exceeds the 10,700 MW that the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) estimated in a recent report. Now the total wind generation capacity in the U.S. stands at over 60,000 MW (60 gigawatts, or GW).
The new milestones will be a shot in the arm for clean energy advocates, who have witnessed a roller coaster of hopes and disappointments the last several years. For example, T. Boone Pickens was once a big proponent of wind power, only to eventually pull his support out of all wind projects in which he had invested. Ironically, much of the new wind power capacity is in the central or prairie states Pickens had envisioned, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.
The newly online wind power projects range from the 210 MW Bison Wind III in North Dakota to the 235 MW Chisholm View wind farm operated by GE in Oklahoma. Illinois witnessed a huge surge in wind power capacity, with such projects now providing over 800 MW annually. Overall, 190 projects in 32 states and Puerto Rico now generate enough electricity to power 15 million homes: or all those in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio combined. That sum of wind power is 42 percent of new power capacity last year; and in fact, renewables were responsible for 55 percent of all new electricity generated in the U.S. last year.
Of course wind power is not completely out of the woods yet. While Congress extended the federal government’s Production Tax Credit past its original expiration of last December 31, the constant drama over the “fiscal cliff” poses uncertainty within the industry since it is a benefit of that federal incentive. Wind installations will continue to face local opposition, as in Vermont, where the state’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, currently tangles with local officials over a potential moratorium on new wind energy projects.
Overall, however, wind power is on an upward trajectory. Remember that it took the U.S. 25 years to reach 10 GW of wind energy capacity. Between 2008 and 2012, that amount surged from 20 GW to 60 GW. Meanwhile fracking for natural gas continues as that boom will not slow down anytime soon. But despite protests and bureaucratic delays, the industry is in an growth spurt.
The peaks and valleys the wind power sector experiences will continue, but watch for this source of energy to grow in size between environmental concerns over sources such as natural gas and coal; plus fossil fuels continue their overall climb in price as well. Throw in the mix of next-generation technologies, and the future of wind will be bright–and exciting.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.
[Image credit: GE]