America’s wind industry built 5,115 megawatts (MW) of wind power last year, barely half of 2009’s record pace, but entered 2011 with more than 5,600 MW under construction. With wind being cost-competitive with natural gas for new electric generation, utilities are moving to lock in favorable rates.

“Wind power is a great deal right now in many areas of the country,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The AWEA reported that 3,195 MW of wind-powered electric generating capacity came online in the fourth quarter of 2010. That performance was below the 4,113 MW installed in the same period in 2009 but a leap from the third quarter of 2010, when only 670 MW were installed. The United States finished the year with a total of 5,115 MW of new wind power.

The industry’s 5,600 MW of electric power currently under construction is well above what was under construction the same time last year. More projects are expected to start up in time to meet the new construction deadline for the tax credit, now set to expire at the end of 2011. The AWEA predicts the wind industry will finish 2011 ahead of 2010 numbers.

“Wind’s costs have dropped over the past two years, with power purchase agreements being signed in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour recently,” said Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA director of Industry Data and Analysis. “With uncertainty around natural gas and power prices as the economy recovers, wind’s long-term price stability is even more valued. We expect that utilities will move to lock in more wind contracts, given the cost-competitive nature of wind in today’s market.”

Total U.S. wind capacity now stands at 40,180 MW, an increase in capacity of 15 percent over the start of 2010, AWEA reported. For the first time, U.S. capacity fell second to China’s; China now has 41,800 MW in operation, an increase of 62 percent in capacity over a year ago, according to a Jan. 13, 2011, report from the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.

The top five states for cumulative wind-energy capacity at the close of 2010 all have such state targets. The top five states are Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota and Washington.

Texas, the leading wind-power state in America for several years running, achieved a major milestone by surging past the 10,000-megawatt mark for total installations, with the addition of 680 MW in 2010. Texas achieved the mark thanks to aggressive pursuit of renewable energy and a renewable-electricity standard that was passed in 1999 and strengthened in 2005. On average, wind now generates 7.8 percent of the electricity in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which covers most of the state.

Other states active in pursuing targets for renewable energy last year were Illinois (498 MW added), California (455 MW), South Dakota (396 MW) and Minnesota (396 MW).

According to the AWEA, 38 states have utility-scale wind projects, and 14 of those have installed more than 1,000 MW of wind power.