According to a US Energy Information Administration report in June, 1332MW of gas-fired generation, 1277MW of coal power and 658MW of petroleum-based generating facilities came online in the first three months of this year, compared to 539MW of wind.
The numbers indicate that investment signals are not getting to the market despite ongoing discussion among policymakers about the need for a national climate and energy strategy, says Liz Salerno, director of industry data and analysis for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
"Every time you pick up the paper or you hear someone from Congress talk about energy policy, they talk about energy diversity, energy security, reducing carbon and creating jobs," Salerno says. "They have all of these metrics by which they're measuring our energy progress." But the first quarter installations do not match those goals, she says: "If you're going to do all those things you say you are going to do, you have to make a commitment and put a policy in place that sends the right market signals."
AWEA has pulled out all the stops in recent weeks to push Congress to enact a renewable electricity standard requiring a minimum percentage of the nation's power supply from wind and other green sources, before it adjourns for November's midterm elections. The US House of Representatives passed comprehensive climate and energy legislation in May 2009 that sets a cap on carbon and establishes a 20% by 2020 national renewable energy standard. Since then, however, the Senate has struggled to figure out how to move forward with its own version of the legislation.
Low power prices and falling demand also played a role in what was the slowest first quarter for US wind installations since 2007, but Salerno says those are variables that affect all generating technologies. "In terms of seeing more fossil fuel generation than clean renewable generation installed in one quarter, I don't think those factors necessarily play a part in that dynamic."
Salerno is unsure about whether wind will continue to trail its fossil fuel competitors. "It is just the first quarter, so it's not necessarily going to mean something for the entire year," she says. Looking to the second quarter of 2010, though, she adds: "I don't know if much has changed in terms of the environment we're functioning in."
The industry is facing a deadline that will certainly drive new construction activity in 2010. To be eligible for the federal government's temporary cash grant programme, which pays 30% of project costs, developers must start to build their wind farm by the end of this year (see previous story).