U.S. wind industry surging now, but future in doubt

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By: SGN Staff

By Doug Peeples

SGN News Editor

 

The U.S. wind industry is in a very weird kind of limbo. One of the fastest growing wind power markets in the world in 2011, with about 6.8 gigawatts of new grid-connected generating capacity, the industry enjoyed rapidly growing production and manufacturing that sparked new jobs and help diversify the country's economy.

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But the very large downside is an uncertain future, according to a new report released by DOE and prepared by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

 

There are a variety of incentives to help support the wind industry, including production tax credits, investment tax credits and Treasury cash grants – but several of those incentives go away at the end of this year – and there's no certainty that all or any of them will be continued. A Washington Post article noted that President Obama wants to extend some of the programs, but Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans want to let them expire.

 

While wind energy technologies and equipment are getting cheaper and the U.S. wind industry is catching up to other countries with major commitments to wind – it had the second fastest growth rate behind China in 2011 – that brief spot in the sun could darken if the incentives aren't renewed. The report predicted that 2012 would continue to be a surge year, but with the triple whammy of an uncertain future for the incentives, continued low prices for natural gas and modest growth in electricity demand, 2013 could see substantial slowing in new wind construction.

That's the big news for wind at the moment, but certainly not all of it. Here are some more developments, good and bad, for the wind industry in the U.S. and elsewhere.

 

Bad news from the AWEA: The American Wind Energy Association said the number of pink slips in the wind industry is growing. Last week, wind companies in Oklahoma, North Dakota, Arkansas and Texas said they would lay off employees or that jobs were at risk. Another said it was diverting its resources from wind turbine tower manufacturing. Earlier this year, major companies like Vestas and Iberdrola also announced layoffs. AWEA CEO Denise Bode warned that those layoffs "represent what is happing and will continue to happen across the country in the U.S. wind industry if these businesses are not provided the policy certainty they need to continue to invest in America and its workers." The AWEA did, however, announce a little good news two days earlier: the American wind industry had reached a 50 gigawatt milestone for generating capacity.

 

World's first wind-powered EV charging station: Urban Green Energy Iberia (UGE) and GE have installed the Sanya Skypump, the first wind-powered EV charging station near Barcelona, Spain. The installation couples UGE's innovative vertical wind turbines with GE's EV charging station technology. The station is a single unit with electrical systems located inside the tower.

 

Germany and Ireland? Doing just fine: Germany's wind market has been growing at record levels this year, according to an article in Sustainable Business. The country reported 26% growth in wind installations in the first half of this year. The German Wind Energy Association credits a large part of the growth to more states, such as Bavaria, that are beginning to welcome wind energy. And Ireland just got a green light from National Grid UK to connect up to 3,000 megawatts of wind power to the UK grid. While approvals are needed, the plan is for the power to be transmitted via underwater cables from Ireland to Wales.

 

Bidding for wind: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently proposed what would be the country's first regional bidding process for renewable energy installations, according to a report from InsideClimate News. The other five New England states have agreed to join in. The states will request proposals for wind and other clean energy projects, with the thinking being that they could get a bigger selection of projects than they could on their own – which also would generate competitive prices. There aren't a lot of details yet, but if it works the regional bidding concept could catch on elsewhere in the country.