AWEA's 4Q 2011 results reveal rush to build

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has released its fourth quarter 2011 results, indicating a surge in wind power developments. The U.S. wind energy industry installed over 6,810 MW in 2011, 31 percent higher than 2010. The industry also started construction on 8,300 MW, with 3,500 MW starting up in the fourth quarter.

This rush to build reflects the industry’s anticipation of the waning Production Tax Credit, which is set to expire at the end of 2012.

A recent report by Navigant Consulting finds that if Congress does not extend the PTC, jobs in the wind industry will be cut in half, resulting in the loss of 37,000 American jobs, while private investment in the industry would drop by nearly two thirds.

Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA, said that fewer jobs will be affected if Congress chooses to extend the PTC sooner rather than later. “Our greatest fear is that the extension is delayed until later on in the year. If that happens, we are likely to lose tens of thousands of jobs in our sector.”

Layoffs have already begun at several companies. Vestas recently laid off 182 of its U.S. employees, and has warned that 1,600 jobs in the U.S. could be threatened if the PTC is not extended. Iberdrola Renewables also recently announced 50 layoffs in the U.S.

Meanwhile, wind producers are working hard to complete installations before the potential PTC expiration. “We’ve seen this boom and bust cycle in the past when the PTC is set to expire,” said Elizabeth Salerno, director of data and analysis for AWEA.

The U.S. wind industry’s fourth quarter results reveal that wind power is forging ahead into new states like Ohio and Nevada while doubling down on installations in existing strong wind markets in California, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas. California ranked No. 1 for the most megawatts installed in 2011 with 921. Illinois was also a strong performer in 2011, ranking No. 2 for installations in the last year and rising to No. 4 in wind power overall. Kansas topped the under construction list with more than 1,188 MW of wind scheduled to come on line in 2012. Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma also ranked in the top five.

Ohio was the nation’s fastest growing state in wind power for 2011 with 101 MW installed, leading to a more than 900 percent growth rate.

Overall, 30 states brought wind projects online in 2011 and construction is ongoing for 2012 projects in 31 states including the first wind projects in Nevada, Connecticut and Puerto Rico.

Additionally, AWEA’s results reveal an increasing trend of utility ownership in wind power. In previous years, about 15 percent of new wind power was owned by utilities, Salerno said. In 2011, utilities brought 23 percent of new wind power online.

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