US Wind Hits 50 GW, Turns To GOP To Keep The Boom Going

What’s the most interesting thing about the American Wind Energy Association’s ballyhooed announcement that U.S. wind power has hit 50 gigawatts in generating capacity? It’s not the big round number, which, given that wind was at 48.6 GW at the end of March, is no shocker.

Plus, while there’s no denying that the 50 GW milestone represents solid growth, it’s also true that wind is still responsible for only 3 percent of U.S. electrical generation; that the U.S. was passed by China on wind in 2010; and that the gap between the two countries has been growing, with China at 62.7 GW at the end of 2011. On wind, China gets the gold.

wind power production tax credit iowa

Acciona’s West Branch, Iowa, turbine generator plant. (image via Acciona)

No, what’s fascinating about the industry’s 50-gig announcement is that two politicians were quoted singing wind’s praises, and both were Republicans: Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.

That was no accident; the AWEA, the wind industry’s most powerful lobbying group, is fighting hard in Washington to maintain wind’s vital subsidy, the production tax credit, beyond its end-of-year expiration date. Democrats are overwhelmingly onboard. The AWEA knows it needs to flip just a few more Republicans to push the PTC ball over the goal line.

The way to do that isn’t by highlighting President Obama’s or Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s support for wind; then wind just seems like another picking-winners lefty green scheme.

So instead the spotlight is shined on a couple of Republicans, and on Grassley in particular. It was Grassley whose hissy-fit last week – after the Romney campaign dissed government support for wind – apparently helped keep a one-year PTC extension in a Senate Finance Committee tax-break package markup.

Grassley, the 78-year-old senior senator from Iowa, who earned a zero from the League of Conservation Voters in its most recent environmental scorecard – is the poster boy for wind.

He’s really fired up about it, too. His solid but somewhat-canned remarks in the press release were good, but even better were Grassley’s comments in public meetings Tuesday in Iowa, where wind is a big jobs generator.

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.