Turbine industry grows, but faces stiff wind

Turbine installations in the United States set a record last quarter, but the pending elimination of a popular tax credit could buffet the wind-energy industry next year, officials say.

Fueled in part by concerns over the Production Tax Credit, a total of 788 wind turbines totaling 1,695 megawatts of power - enough to supply  about 1.6 million homes for at least an hour - were erected between January and April in 17 states. That was the strongest first-quarter showing in U.S. wind-energy history, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. Read the press release here.

California led the nation with 370 megawatts of new wind power. Two of the state's top three wind regimes are near the north and south ends of the San Joaquin Valley. The third area is near Palm Springs. In 2011, about 5% of California's power came from wind. More here.

The 52% increase over the same period last year set a record for first-quarter installations, and continued a five-year surge. "The last five years have been marked by unprecedented policy stability, and in response, wind power has delivered," said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

This AOL white paper suggests that companies are rushing to get turbines installed before the Production Tax Credit expires Dec. 31. It also suggests that 2012 could be bumpy for the wind industry globally if Europe dials back on subsidies.

Wind power contributed 35% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011. The industry employs about 75,000 people in the United States. Bode said about 37,000 jobs could disappear, many of them in U.S. manufacturing, if the tax credit is suspended Dec. 31. By contrast, extending the credit  could generate 100,000 jobs in four years, she said.

President Obama supports extending the credit. See this from The Hill. A bipartisan effort also is under way.

Industry officials noted that improved technology is allowing wind energy to be gathered from regions that were previously considered inadequate. That trend, they said, is reflected in New Hampshire, Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, where wind power grew at high rates in first quarter 2012.

Meanwhile, construction of new turbines is greatest in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, California and Illinois.

Photo of wind turbines near Palm Springs by California Energy Commission