U.S. Wind Energy Investment Rises 76%, Iowa Tops in Power

By George Ford, Reporter

A wind turbine slowly spins in Hawkeye, Iowa, on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. In all, the Hawkeye project will have 15 turbines. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - With a huge push to get new wind turbines installed in the final three months of the year, the industry recorded a 76 percent increase in wind energy investment in the United States.

Data released Thursday by the American Wind Energy Association shows $25 billion was spent last year to construct wind farms across the nation, a sharp increase from $14.2 billion in 2011.

The fourth quarter accounted for 60 percent of wind turbine installations as developers sought to take advantage of an expiring production tax credit.

The 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour incentive was extended for a year shortly after the start of 2013 — but not before it effectively stopped new wind turbine orders and led to thousands of layoffs at industry-related manufacturers.

In Iowa, Siemens Energy in Fort Madison laid off hundred of employees who manufactured blades, and Trinity furloughed workers from a wind turbine tower fabricating plant in Newton. Acciona Windpower in West Branch also let go of 40 employees in March due to a slowdown in orders for new wind turbines from U.S. developers.

Wind turbines accounted for 5.6 percent of U.S. electricity generating capacity in 2012, up from about 3 percent in 2011, according to the association's annual market report for 2012. Developers installed 13.1 gigawatts of wind capacity in 2012, more than natural gas-fired power plant construction, to become the largest new source of electricity.

More than 6,700 new wind turbines were erected in 2012, which produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 3.5 million homes.

Iowa added 614 megawatts of electricity from wind energy in 2012. The state ranks third in the nation in terms of installed wind power capacity, and gets 24.5 percent of its power from wind, the most of any state.

About 3.5 percent of the nation's electricity is produced by 45,100 wind turbines, enough to power 15.2 million homes. With the renewal of the production and investment tax credits, many wind projects put on hold are expected to resurface in the coming months.

At least seven utilities have issued new requests for proposals to purchase over 1,000 megawatts of wind power. That bodes well for workers at 550 factories across the country that provide parts and services for the wind energy industry.

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