President Barack Obama should be pleased to hear the news: Despite the criticism on many fronts about the federal government’s historic intervention in the nation’s economy, at least some of that investment appears to be paying off in dividends. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 2009 was a banner year for the industry, and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) had a lot to do with it.

The industry group reported that U.S. wind power broke all previous records by installing nearly 10,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in 2009. That’s enough to serve more than 2.4 million homes. To put that growth into perspective, the new projects place wind power at a virtual tie with natural gas as the leading source of new electricity generation for the country. Together, the two sources account for about 80 percent of the new capacity added in the country last year, the AWEA reported.

Early last year, before the ARRA passed, the industry had low expectations. Projections called for a drop in annual wind-power development by as much as 50 percent from 2008 levels.AWEA credits the ARRA for turning that situation around and actually making the industry into one of the bright spots in a faltering economy. The act’s incentives helped spur growth and job retention in multiple categories related to wind-power development, including construction, operations, maintenance and management.

The 9,922 megawatts installed in 2009 expand the nation’s wind-plant fleet by 39 percent and bring total wind-power generating capacity in the United States to more than 35,000 MW. The five-year average annual growth rate for the industry is now 39 percent, up from 32 percent between 2003 and 2008. U.S. wind projects now generate enough to power 9.7 million average homes.

Of course, black clouds often lurk behind the silver lining, and this is no exception. The AWEA points out that despite the growth in capacity, investment in the manufacturing sector dropped precipitously. Calling it the “canary in the mine,” AWEA CEO Denise Bode said manufacturing is down compared to last year’s levels and needs “long-term policy certainty and market pull” in order to grow.