Although there may be a rush to take advantage of federal production tax credits for wind power before they expire in 2012, Peter Kelley, vice president of the American Wind Energy Association, says the end of the wind-power building boom is nowhere in site.

“There are good prospects for the tax credit being renewed,” Kelley says. Wind power is creating manufacturing jobs throughout the country, which politicians like, and wind farms are creating an economic boom in the communities where they are built, he adds.

AWEA is getting ready for its annual conference on May 22-25 in Anaheim, Calif. Four years ago, the gathering drew 5,200 attendees, and the U.S. had in place 17,000 MW of wind-generating capacity. This time, 20,000 attendees are expected, and the installed base of U.S. wind-based generating capacity is 41,000 MW.

Kelley says California’s recent adoption of a 33% renewable portfolio standard, signed into law last month by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), is about to spark another round of wind builds in that state. With 3,177 MW of wind capacity, the state ranks third, behind Texas and Iowa.

The production tax credits, the dropping cost of wind turbines and the increasing efficiency of the turbines themselves have allowed for the expansion of wind power in the U.S., Kelley says. Prices range from 3.4¢ per kWh to 11.4¢, he says. Most contracts are in the midrange, about the same price for a new natural-gas-fired plant. New turbines have larger blades— sometimes as large as two football fields—and can operate at lower wind speeds.

Peter Kelley
“There are good prospects for the tax credit being renewed.”
— Peter Kelley, Vice President of the American Wind Energy Association

Wind power accounted for 35% of all new electricity generation capacity between 2007 and 2010. Kelley says the wind industry is close to providing almost 20% of the country’s power—on par with nuclear power—but without nuclear power’s cost and roadblocks.

Those wind turbines, however, rarely operate at full capacity and need a backup source of power, says Mark Gabriel, senior vice president and executive director of strategy practice for Overland Park, Kan.-based Black & Veatch. Because it is not in effect 100% of the time, wind can’t be used yet as base-load power, as nuclear power is used.

But Kelley says improvements are being made all the time. Some wind farms are producing power above 50% of the time. By using wind from diverse locations, some wind power can be available 24 hours a day, he says.

“We’ve got a story of cost competitiveness and growth that few people are aware of,” Kelley says. Not only that, he expects to tell more of the story at next year’s conference.