Can huge Mojave wind farm boost faltering wind power industry?
Construction began last week on a wind power plant in the Mojave Desert. Its developers say it will be the nation's biggest but it comes amid dimming prospects for wind power in the US.
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To be sure, a number of powerful trends are in wind power's favor. Notable among them:Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The answer is blowing in the wind
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- Wind manufacturing and job growth. Seven of 10 wind-turbine manufacturers with the biggest share of the US market now have US manufacturing plants, the DOE study notes. Two of the remaining three have specific plans to open facilities.
- US is making more, importing less. Wind turbines and other equipment imports were about $4.2 billion last year, down from $5.4 billion in 2008. As imports fell, the proportion of made-in-America wind-power content grew from 50 percent in 2008 to 60 percent last year.
- Wind Power dominated new power installations. Last year wind made up 39 percent of all new US electric generating capacity last year with nearly 10,000 megawatts of new capacity added – ahead of all other forms of power generation in both categories.
"At this pace, wind power is on a path to becoming a significant contributor to the US power mix," Ryan Wiser, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist and a co-author of the report, said in a statement. "Wind power is now able to deliver 2.5 percent of the nation's electricity supply."
Yet weak turbine demand has led to a net loss of 1,500 wind turbine manufacturing jobs last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Overall wind energy employment held at 85,000 full-time jobs, of which 18,500 are estimated to be turbine and other component manufacturing jobs.
"What's really needed for a long-term rebound is for Congress to develop an energy policy that makes sense for renewable energy – where it can compete," Kaplan says. "States are supporting renewable energy. But with a federal mandate, there's just a lot more certainty in the marketplace."
If wind doesn't catch a fresh breeze soon in the form of a comprehensive energy-climate law, which could mandates utilities purchase a portion of power from renewable sources, then foreign investments in US-based manufacturing and jobs could go elsewhere to emerging markets.
"China's wind energy market is expected to grow around 50 percent this year and India's about 30 percent – but in the US we'll see at least a 20 percent decline," says Jamieson Bender, a senior associate with Ducker Worldwide, a Troy, Mich.-based market research firm. "Companies are not going to put their money into building manufacturing here until we see a rebound. Until then, it's probably going overseas."
IN PICTURES: The answer is blowing in the wind