By TODD WOODY
The New York Times
The American housing market remained in the doldrums in 2009 and automakers sputtered along, but the wind industry continued to boom, according to a report released Thursday.
A record 10,010 megawatts of new wind capacity was installed in the United States last year, accounting for 39 percent of new electrical generation, the American Wind Energy Association said in its annual report.
That raises the nation’s total wind energy capacity to more than 35,000 megawatts, or enough electricity to keep the lights on in 9.7 million homes. “Over the past five years, wind power and other renewable energy technologies, combined with natural gas, have provided over 90 percent of all new generating capacity in the U.S.,” the report’s authors stated.
The American Wind Energy Association credited the federal stimulus package, which included various tax credits and incentives for renewable energy, for keeping the industry’s growth on track in an otherwise economically dismal year. While the big picture is impressive, some other numbers jump out from the report:
• Thirty-six states boast large-scale wind projects.
• Fourteen states have installed more than 1,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity.
• Texas remained the wind leader with 9,405 megawatts installed.
• Iowa, the No. 2 state in wind capacity, obtains 14.2 percent of its electricity from turbine farms.
• Total employment in the wind industry remained flat in 2009 at 85,000 people.
• By displacing fossil fuel power plants, which use water for cooling, wind farms saved an estimated 15 billion gallons of water in 2009.
One potential roadblock for future growth is the shortage of transmission lines to get electricity from distant wind farms to metropolitan areas. According to the report, projects that would generate 300,000 megawatts are planned, but many of them are unlikely to be built because of transmission constraints.
“The inadequacy of the nation’s electric grid is a major impediment to the continued growth of the wind industry,” the report noted. “Many wind projects that have connected to the grid are forced to curtail a significant amount of their output or are facing low or even negative electric prices because there is inadequate transmission to carry their full output.”