Fiona Harvey Was 2008 ALL good for the US wind sector?

The American Wind Energy Association produced an upbeat end-of-year report for 2008 on Tuesday, saying there was strong growth during the year and a sizeable increase in wind turbine and components manufacturing capacity in the US.

During the year, more than 55 new manufacturing facilities were opened or announced, or old facilities expanded, in 24 US states. Ten new manufacturing facilities came online, 17 were expanded, and 30 were announced in 2008, according to AWEA estimates.

Texas led at the end of the year in wind capacity and largest wind farms installed, Minnesota and Iowa both generating over 7 per cent of their electricity from wind, and Indiana was the state with the fastest growth in wind on a percentage basis, the AWEA said.

Its rankings showed NextEra Energy Resources (formerly EPL Energy) was leader in wind farm ownership. GE Energy installed the greatest amount of new capacity.

“The wind energy industry today generates not only clean energy for our economy, but also hope and opportunity for American workers and businesses,” said Denise Bode, chief executive of the AWEA. “Whether it is building or maintaining a wind project, or producing wind turbine components, you’ll find people employed in wind power in nearly all 50 states today.”

She called for a national Renewable Electricity Standard, requiring utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.

About 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry today, the AWEA estimates, which is a 70 per cent increase from 50,000 a year ago, but from a small base.

However – and it is a big however – the big question about 2008 is not whether it was a big year, but whether investments started to trail off at the end of the year. Figures from New Energy Finance for the whole of the clean energy sector for 2008 have consistently suggested that investment in the sector as a whole dropped off drastically in the final months of the year.

The AWEA points out that the amount that the industry brought online in the 4th quarter alone – 4,313 MW – exceeded annual additions in wind capacity for every year except 2007.

But new turbines coming onstream lag well behind investment, so new capacity could continue to be added at a strong rate even while investment is drying to a trickle. To get the full picture, we need to know how much new investment came into the sector in the final quarter of 2008, and the first quarter of this year, and how many new projects were proposed in those periods.

We have asked AWEA for this breakdown and will post a response when we have it.