The rapid recovery of American wind

Last year wind power drew $US25 billion in private investment into the US economy but a delay in a key tax credit left the sector adrift. But since the measure's reinstatement, the sector has regained lift.


These days it’s hard to imagine that the US Congress ever agreed on anything. But we need only to look back at the early days of this year for an example of when Democrats and Republicans agreed on something.

Back in January, as part of the last minute deal to address the Fiscal Cliff, Congress decided that extending the Production Tax Credit was simply too important for the American economy. Congress wanted to keep the success story that is American wind power going.

After all, last year wind power attracted $US25 billion in private investment into our national economy, now supports 80,000 well-paying jobs, and relies on a brand new manufacturing sector to make more than 70 per cent of its content.

While the PTC extension was good news, the delay leading up to its extension was not. It resulted in a sharp decline in turbine and equipment orders, layoffs and job losses, factories closing and a near halt to the industry’s progress during late 2012 – all impacts predicted by the American Wind Energy Association at the beginning of that year. It has also meant a very slow first half of 2013.

But now the rapid recovery of American wind power is underway. And it may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Recently, Arkansas Business reported that LM Wind Power had decided to add more than 850 jobs at its Little Rock plant due to “increased volumes from major customers". LM added that it had doubled its American workforce since March.

In another report by Windpower Monthly, Broadwind Energy said it had secured an order for towers for wind turbines worth $US106 million. That deal means new activity for Broadwind’s US facilities from Wisconsin to Texas. Since the start of 2013, Broadwind has recorded tower orders worth $US306 million.

In late September, the Pueblo Chieftain reported Vestas announced “its biggest order in three years”. Vestas reported Duke Energy Renewables placed a 400-megawatt order capable of providing enough power for more than 180,000 homes.

This sequence of developments, coming within the space of a few weeks, makes it pretty clear – when wind power grows, the economy grows. Wind power’s success is America’s success.

This is all good news for ratepayers, because adding more wind power helps lower the costs for ratepayers since it displaces the most expensive and dirty energy options. In fact, the Boston Globe reported in late September that wind power is “now competitive with conventional sources”.

Let’s not forget that wind power is a 100 per cent clean electricity source, one that saved 30 billion gallons of fresh water in 2012 since it uses virtually no water, and one that displaces 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – equivalent to taking 15 million cars off the road.

Extending the PTC was clearly the right choice by Democrats and Republicans at the start of 2013. If they want to get back on the good side of millions of Americans (71 per cent of whom support wind power’s growth, according to Gallup), they should consider focusing their attention on providing wind power with the long-term, stable tax policy that its competitors receive.

David Ward is the American Wind Energy Association's rapid response team leader.

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