Nothing like the guillotine to focus one’s mind. Faced with the expiration of a crucial federal tax credit at the end of 2012, US wind energy developers rushed to put steel in the ground last year, installing a record 13,131 megawatts (MW) of new electricity generating capacity.
At peak output, that’s enough to keep the lights on in 3.5 million US homes, according to a report released today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). In 2012, it found, wind accounted for 42% of all new electricity capacity that came online.
Altogether, some 45,100 wind turbines now dot the American landscape, generating 60,000 megawatts of electricity to power the equivalent of 15.2 million homes. Just five years ago, US wind energy capacity stood at 20,000 megawats.
In contrast, China intends to install 18,000 megawatts of new wind energy capacity this year.
The US industry spent $25 billion to install more than 6,700 turbines in 2012 and take advantage of the expiring Production Tax Credit, which is valued at 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by wind farms during their first decade of operation.
Congress extended the tax credit in January for another year, allowing developers to claim it as long as they break ground on wind farms by Dec. 31, 2013.
US wind developers has largely escaped the controversies that have dogged the solar industry, beset with a global trade war and high-profile failures of government-backed photovoltaic firms like Solyndra.
A few stats explain why even many fossil-fueled Republicans are quick to back the wind business. The massive size of wind turbines means they need to be manufactured close to where they will be installed (unlike solar panels that are shipped all of the world from China). As a result, AWEA estimates the wind industry has created more than 25,000 manufacturing jobs at 559 facilities in 44 states.
And here’s a number that surely focuses the minds of politicians up for re-election in 2014: 70% of Congressional districts are home to either a wind farm and/or a wind-related factory, according to AWEA.