The amount of electricity generated from wind-powered turbines reached new heights in 2015, buoyed by plummeting costs, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the industry's leading trade group. And that's good for prospects of transitioning the nation away from the fossil fuels that cause air pollution and contribute to climate change.
Wind now accounts for 70 gigawatts of the nation's generation capacity, which is enough to power 19 million households. Fifty thousand turbines are now in operation in the United States and costs have dropped 66 percent in the last six years.
"We've seen incredible growth in the industry over the last few decades," Hannah Hunt, a senior research analyst at AWEA, said. "The 70-gigawatt goal is important to show the growth we've already achieved, but also what we can achieve going forward."
Wind energy contributes as much as 5 percent of the nation's electrical supply and Hunt pointed to the number of jobs that the industry supports in manufacturing, construction, development, and operations.
"At the end of 2014, we found that the wind industry was recording 73,000 jobs across 50 states," she said.
Wind energy generation is highest in the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, and the Northeast, with big boosts occurring in the Southeast. Job creation has been distributed across the country even in regions without wind turbines because, according to Hunt, manufacturing the blades and other components of wind energy systems is employing 20,000 people nationwide.
As evidence of the job creation potential of the wind energy sector, Hunt pointed to a 2008 US Department of Energy (DOE) report, which projected the creation of 380,000 jobs if the country produced 20 percent of its power from wind by 2030.
Three states — Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas — already get over 20 percent of their electricity from wind power, according to AWEA.
The last big surge in wind power generation occurred in 2012, supported by federal production tax credits. But those expired in 2014.
Last week, Congress voted to extend the tax credit for five years as part of the 2016 federal budget.
"It's an incredibly important piece of policy that allows a sense of stability for the wind energy industry, and allows for its continued expansion," Hunt said.
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