U.S. Wind Energy Capacity Growth Up 31 Percent in 2011

U.S. wind power capacity grew 31 percent in 2011, accounting for 35 percent of all new electricity generation capacity, the American Wind Energy Association said.

The U.S. wind industry installed 6.8 gigawatts last year, to reach total capacity of 46.9 gigawatts, according to an annual market report released by the industry group in New York today.

More than 60 percent of last year’s installations, about 3.4 gigawatts, occurred in the fourth quarter, due to seasonal weather and the expiration of the Treasury grant option, which offered to cover as much as 30 percent of a project’s cost, according to AWEA. In order to qualify, developers had to start projects before the end of last year.

“This shows what wind power is capable of: building new projects, powering local economies and creating jobs,” said AWEA Chief Executive Officer Denise Bode.

About 3 percent of U.S. power came from wind last year. The industry is seeking to provide 20 percent by 2030, AWEA said. South Dakota led in terms of total electricity produced at 22.3 percent, followed by Iowa at 18.8 percent. California led with 921 megawatts installed, followed by Illinois with 693 megawatts and Iowa with 647 megawatts.

NextEra Energy Resources LLC owns the most U.S. wind power capacity with 9.3 gigawatts, or 17.8 percent, more than the second- and third-largest owners, Iberdrola SA and EDP Renewables, combined.

Expiring Subsidies

The U.S. wind market started 2012 with 8.3 gigawatts of new wind projects under construction, more than the 5.1 gigawatts under way at the start of 2011, AWEA said. Kansas, Texas and California had the most wind-power projects under construction.

Wind development is also being driven by the federal Production Tax Credit, or PTC, which leverages as much as $20 billion a year in private investment, Bode said.

The tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year, and the longer Congress waits to announce whether it’s extended the more it will slow U.S. development, said Art Whittemore, chief financial officer for Gamesa Technology Corp.’s North America unit.

“This isn’t the only important thing not getting done in Washington,” Whittemore said today in an interview. “Even if they extended the PTC today, it’s already too late for 2013 because the development cycle is too long. And it’s very important that it isn’t just a one-year extension -- a one-year extension is almost no good.”

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