Wind Power Industry Gaining Ground across U.S.

The U.S. wind energy industry this year appears ready to break the previous record for installation of new projects with wind farms planned from New York to Arizona, the American Wind Energy Association reported in late April.

Colorado's hosting of Windpower 2005 comes amid major gains in the wind energy industry.

The U.S. wind energy industry this year appears ready to break the previous record for installation of new projects with wind farms planned from New York to Arizona, the American Wind Energy Association reported in late April.

In its quarterly market outlook estimate, the trade group nudged its 2005 forecast for the expanding industry from "over 2,000 megawatts" of new capacity upward to "up to 2,500 megawatts."

The estimates are based on a private survey of wind turbine manufacturer plans.

A megawatt of wind capacity generates about as much electricity as is used by 250-300 households, meaning the new forecast translates to the equivalent of about 700,000 homes.

"We are seeing a series of positive trends, from new major players entering the industry to strong economic activity in hard-hit rural areas," Randall Swisher, director of the Washington, D.C.-based trade group, said in a statement.

The trade group hopes the market gains help convince Congress to back tax credits for wind energy development.

"We continue to press for a timely long-term extension of the federal wind energy production tax credit so that this latest boom can continue," Swisher said.

The tax credits expires at the end of the current year, and Congress has previously allowed it to expire three times before renewal, each time creating uncertainty about the industry's future, Swisher said.

Beyond offering a new source for energy, AWEA views wind energy as one of the most promising new sources of manufacturing jobs for the 21st century, Swisher said.

The trade group cited several recent developments:

-- Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell announced in January that Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa will build a turbine blade manufacturing plant in his state.

The firm also plans to locate its U.S. headquarters and East Coast development offices in Philadelphia. All of the activities are expected to lead to 1,000 new jobs in the next five years.

-- Blade manufacturer LM Glasfiber, which has added 100 new jobs at its Fargo, N.D., plant since the tax credit was extended in October 2004, said recently that it hopes to hire 40-50 more workers by June.

-- Turbine manufacturer Vestas-American Wind Technology also is currently advertising for 100 new positions.

-- A report issued in March by the New York State Comptroller's office said that state's new requirement that electric utilities boost the amount of power they obtain from wind and other renewable energy sources from 20 percent today to 25 percent by 2013 could create 43,000 new jobs in manufacturing and energy industries and through related increased economic activity. Gov. George Pataki originally proposed the requirement in 2003.

-- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, calling in his State of the State message for 3,000 megawatts of new wind farms to be built in Illinois by 2012, said the move "could mean 1,000 new jobs over the next two years."

-- Wind projects now under construction, and jobs resulting from them, include: Maple Ridge Wind Farm (N.Y.), 300 jobs; Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center (Texas), 130 jobs; Velva (N.D.), 50 jobs; two plants in Iowa for MidAmerican Energy, 250 jobs; and many more.

"More states are looking seriously at wind energy these days as an engine of economic development and what they are seeing confirms a major study released last fall by the Renewable Energy Policy Project. It reported that boosting wind energy from 6,000 MW to 50,000 MW nationwide would create 150,000 manufacturing jobs. With its energy, economic, and environmental benefits, wind is the technology that is ready today to power America's future."

The trade group said its current market forecast means the U.S. wind industry is within striking distance of exceeding its previous record year (2001 with 1,696 megawatts) by 50 percent. To reach the mark 2,544 megawatts of new capacity would be needed, the trade group said.

AWEA, formed in 1974, is the national trade association of the U.S. wind energy industry. The association's membership includes turbine manufacturers, wind project developers, utilities, academicians, and interested individuals.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News