The US wind industry has passed the 20,000-megawatt (MW) installed capacity milestone, achieving in two years what had previously taken more than two decades, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said, increasing 10,000 MW since 2006. Wind now provides 20,152 MW of electricity generating capacity in the United States, producing enough electricity to serve 5.3 million American homes.

“Wind energy installations are well ahead of the curve for contributing 20 percent of the U.S. electric power supply by 2030 as envisioned by the U.S. Department of Energy,” said Randall Swisher, AWEA executive director. “However, the looming expiration of the federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) less than four months from now threatens this spectacular progress. The PTC has been a critical factor in wind’s very rapid growth as a part of the nation’s power portfolio.”

At the time of this statement, the PTC was set to expire at the end of 2008.

Swisher and other wind industry leaders noted the 20,000-MW milestone from Minneapolis, where the 2008 Republican National Convention was held last month. Joining Swisher in Minneapolis were AWEA President Jim Walker, of enXco, as well as officials from other leading companies in the wind industry, including Xcel Energy, Vestas Americas A/S, Renewable Energy Systems Americas, and Horizon Wind Power.

Xcel Energy, the host utility for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, provided sufficient wind-generated electricity from its system to power both events. A 131-foot wind turbine blade, on display at both conventions, was manufactured by wind turbine maker Vestas at a U.S. blade factory.

The 20,000 MW of wind power installed in the United States can generate as much electricity every year as 28.7 million tons of coal or 90 million barrels of oil. Wind generation currently displaces 34 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 5.8 million vehicles off the road. A U.S. Department of Energy study released in May 2008 found that wind could provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030. At that level, wind power would support 500,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 140 million vehicles off the road.

The United States is now the world leader in wind electricity generation. While Germany has more generating capacity installed (about 23,000 MW), the United States is producing more electricity because of its stronger winds. AWEA expects more than 7,500 MW of new wind capacity to be added in 2008, expanding America’s wind energy fleet by 45 percent and bringing total U.S. capacity to approximately 24,300 MW.

Although 20,000 MW is an important milestone, wind power provides just over 1.5 percent of the nation’s electricity, far below the potential identified by experts. Still, according to the AWEA, it is one of the fastest-growing electricity sources today, providing 35 percent of the total new capacity added in 2007, second only to natural gas.