All the policies, rhetoric and tax incentives may be finally starting to pay off. New statistics reveal that wind power and other renewables are showing sustained and consistent growth, a sign that they may have reached a new stage of maturity in the American energy market.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the wind-power industry installed 1,100 megawatts (MW) of new capacity in the United States in the first quarter of 2011. The total wind fleet now stands at 41,400 MW. The industry also entered the second quarter with another 5,600 MW under construction.
AWEA emphasized that the under-construction figure is nearly twice the amount reported at this time in the two previous years. Two-thirds of those megawatts are already locked in under long-term power purchase agreements with electric utilities, showing that the industry has proven itself reliable enough for long-term commitments.
The growth in wind is also well distributed across the country. The first quarter’s 1,100 MW of new capacity came online in 12 different states, with some seeing double-digit growth. U.S. states with the most capacity additions so far include Minnesota (293 MW), Illinois (240 MW), Washington (151 MW), Idaho (119 MW) and Nebraska (81 MW).
The West Coast is the nation’s leader in new wind-power construction. Of the 5,600 MW currently under construction, one-third is located in Oregon, Washington and California.
The growth in wind reflects growth for renewables in general. According to the Energy Information Agency’s Electric Power Monthly report, renewables had a good year in 2010. Comparing January 2011 with January 2010, hydroelectric generation registered the largest “fuel-specific” increase with generation up 3,590 thousand megawatt-hours (MWh) or 16.2 percent. The next largest renewable expansion was in wind generation, up 1,923 thousand MWh or 27.6 percent. Solar power net generation measured the largest percentage increase, leaping 343 percent; solar grew from 10,000 MWh to 43,000 MWh in 2011, led by Nevada, California and Florida.