Wind Energy In U.S.: Growing But For How Long?

The American Wind Energy Association released its annual market report this week, with a lot of great news about recent wind energy projects growing faster than fossil fuels and other renewable energy sources in the past year, though the next year might not look so bright.

The U.S. added 13 GW of wind energy in 2012, almost twice the 7 GW added in the year before, bringing the nation’s total wind energy output to more than 60 GW.

“As this in-depth AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report shares, those are just a couple of the dozens of achievements for which 2012 will be remembered and that the industry can be proud of,” the report's executive summary says. “In 2012 our industry invested over $25 billion in private capital to build new wind projects in the U.S., pushing the five-year average annual investment level to $18 billion between 2008 and 2012.

“In other words, our industry is investing in America. Now that’s something to be proud of.”

That growth will probably not continue this year, however, because of the difficulty that a lot of industries are having with inconsistent and unpredictable regulations and subsidies coming out of Congress, though the impact of these problems is a little more direct for the U.S. wind energy industry.

David R. Baker, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle clean technology blog, pointed to a specific wind energy production tax credit, the looming expiration of which made many wind energy producers nervous at the end of 2012, as they rushed to get projects started before the end of the year.

The credit was renewed in the last-minute New Year’s Eve deal signed by Congress and President Obama, though the damage had been done.

Now the industry is trying to recover from the hasty brakes applied in late 2012, to keep things moving forward.

“We had this period of stability, for about three years, where the production tax credit was in place, and we knew it was going to be in place,” said Elizabeth Salerno, the wind association director of analysis. “We had a three-year lead time to build up our project pipeline. Where we are today is sort of the inverse of that. We’re in rebuilding mode.”

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