Industry growth blowin’ in the wind

Construction on wind energy projects has climbed to a record level in the United States following the extension of a federal tax credit, a wind industry trade association reports.

Meanwhile, a Colorado group reports that wind turbines generate not only more electricity in the state, but also economic and environmental benefits.

In its market report for the fourth quarter of 2013, the American Wind Energy Association reported that construction on an unprecedented number of new wind farms had begun even as power purchase agreements with utilities also increased to record levels.

Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the group, attributed the increase in part to the extension of the Production Tax Credit early in 2013.

“These results show the Production Tax Credit continues to be an effective and efficient policy, driving billions of dollars in private investment into our economy, fostering a new U.S. manufacturing sector and creating economic benefits for communities across America.”

At the end of 2013, more than 12,000 megawatts of wind power was under construction, with a record-breaking 10,900 megawatts in projects starting during the fourth quarter. Wind projects now under construction could power the equivalent of 3.5 million American homes — or all the households in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.

A record number of long-term power purchase agreements were reached in 2013. At least 60 agreements for a total of nearly 8,000 megawatts were signed by utilities and corporate purchasers, including 5,200 megawatts of capacity from projects in which construction had not yet started.

Some of the states poised for major growth in wind energy in coming years include Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota and Texas.

Meanwhile, turbine orders for 5,600 megawatts of capacity have been placed with major manufacturers in Colorado as well as Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota. Manufacturing production capacity has ramped up dramatically, and the largest turbine order in history of the U.S. wind industry was placed during the fourth quarter.

Kiernan said momentum at the end of 2013 will carry over into 2014 as construction continues and wind farms and factories fill orders for turbines.

The Production Tax Credit, which provides up-front tax relief of 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of a project, was allowed to expire momentarily on Dec. 31, 2012 then extended the next day by Congress and signed back into law on Jan. 2, 2013 as part of a fiscal cliff deal.

The credit expired again at the end of 2013, however, and uncertainty over tax policy could deter new wind project development, Kiernan said. “In the absence of long-term policies, the wind industry should not be left out in the cold while Congress decides the way forward on energy. The PTC is a highly successful policy and Congress should act quickly to extend it to maintain a stable business environment so that wind energy can continue to provide more affordable, clean, homegrown energy.”

In Colorado, electrical production from wind power continues to grow along with the economic and environmental benefits, Environment Colorado reported.

The Denver-based environmental group reported that wind power accounts for more than 6 million megawatt hours of electricity in Colorado — about 11 percent of total electric generation in the state.

Anna Giovinetto, vice president of corporate affairs for RES Americas, a renewable energy company with offices in Colorado, said wind power also generates economic benefits.

“Wind power has provided major economic benefits for Colorado, employing more than 4,000 workers in 17 factories, paying $7.5 million to landowners who lease their property for turbines and attracting more than

$4 billion of capital investment to the state,” Giovinetto said.

At the same time, the increasing use of wind power in Colorado has avoided what would have been more than 3 million metric tons of carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants, Environment Colorado reported. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 700,000 cars off the road.

And since no water is required to generate electricity from wind power, more than 1.5 million gallons of water a year has been saved, enough to meet the needs of nearly 37,000 people.