U.S. Wind Power Installs Slowed In 2010

After booming in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. wind power industry saw growth in new installations slow dramatically in 2010, according to a federal report that cites lagging effects of the worldwide financial crisis, lower prices for natural gas and electricity and weak energy demand as factors in the slowdown. As a result, wind slid to third as a contributor to new electricity-generating capacity in 2010, trailing coal and natural gas, after five consecutive years in which it was second only to natural gas plants.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 2010 Wind Technologies Market Report, cumulative wind power capacity grew by 5,113 megawatts (MW) or 15 percent in 2010, about half the gain seen in 2009 and 40 percent lower than in 2008. Meanwhile, China added nearly 19,000 MW in 2010, making it the new world leader in cumulative wind power capacity at 44,781 MW, with the United States second at 40,267 MW. Although the United States was near the top in wind capacity, wind power still accounts for just 2.9 percent of the electricity used in the country, the report said. Several European countries do far better, led by Denmark at 26 percent.

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More than a quarter of the U.S. wind power capacity is now in Texas, where 680 MW of new installations in 2010 brought the total to 10,089 MW. But even there the decline in new installations was precipitous; in 2009, the Lone Star state saw 2,292 MW installed.

GE is the leading player in U.S. wind power, with a 50 percent share of the turbine market and Siemens well behind at 16 percent. The report said a growing percentage of the equipment used in U.S. wind power projects is domestically sourced, but the slowdown in new installations was taking a toll, noting “downward revisions to revenue and profit forecasts throughout the wind turbine and component manufacturing supply chain.” In the near-term, the report forecast, “federal incentives for wind energy in place through 2012, an improved project finance environment, and lower wind turbine and wind power pricing” should sustain “modest growth in annual wind power capacity additions.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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