U.S. wind power sees growth ahead as first quarter ends

U.S. wind power turned in a solid first quarter, AWEA reported April 28, installing enough new generating capacity (1,100 megawatts, MW) to power the equivalent of a quarter of a million average American homes.

What was slightly surprising, though, is the amount of new wind capacity reported to be under construction as of the quarter's end–5,600 MW, enough to power another 1.4 million homes. More importantly, that 5,600 MW is more than twice the amount under construction at the comparable point in 2009 or 2010.

According to AWEA, “[M]oreover, two-thirds of those megawatts are already locked in under long-term power purchase agreements with electric utilities, indicating an enduring industry that has proven both nimble and strong through a range of economic and policy conditions.”

The industry is likely not out of the woods yet–it remains to be seen whether the modest economic recovery to date will hold up and lead to a resurgence in electricity demand. Still, it's encouraging to see wind power mounting a comeback after a difficult 2010–when new installations dropped off sharply due to the Great Recession–and despite low natural gas prices.

A special bright spot is California, which was the world's leader in wind power during the 1980s, but fell behind Texas and Iowa during the last decade due to weak policy support for renewable energy.  At the quarter's end, more new wind generating capacity was under construction in the Golden State than has been installed there in any year in the past.

With a new Renewable Portfolio Standard that calls for state utilities to obtain 33 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, California appears poised to become a leader in renewable energy once again.  The new law sets the stage for WINDPOWER 2011, the world's largest annual wind energy event, which is scheduled for Anaheim, Calif., May 22-24 and is expecting 1,200 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees.

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