New wind power generation in the US grew 40% per year from 2005 to 2009, far outpacing new electricity generation from natural gas or coal.  But increasing supplies of natural gas are driving down prices, causing private equity investors to shift their focus away from wind power and into natural gas-fired power plants instead. 

Last year, in 2010, the US added only 3,657 megawatts (MW) of new wind generation capacity, down from 9,645 MW of new capacity in 2009.  In contrast, natural gas-fired capacity grew by 6,309 MW and even coal-fired capacity grew by 5,217 MW.  Construction of new wind power generation is expected to drop again this year because of competition from cheap natural gas.

In addition to price competition from natural gas, wind also faces the challenge of uncertainty over the future of renewable energy tax credits given the current budget debates in Congress and the continuing weak economy.

Wind still has a few things going for it.  Many states have renewable energy mandates that require utilities to acquire a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.  Wind remains one of the most cost-effective ways to comply with those mandates.  Turbine prices are also dropping which makes wind farms more competitive with natural gas.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

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