The Obama Administration is calling for continued government support of wind energy, touting a new report showing that it accounted for nearly a third of new electric capacity added in the United States last year.
A report released Tuesday by the Department of Energy says the U.S. wind power industry is "facing uncertain times," growing strongly but confronting the possibility of an expiring tax credit that would deal it a severe blow.
Roughly $14 billion was invested last year in the industry, which accounted for 32% of new U.S. generating capacity, the report says. The U.S. has also become a major player on the manufacturing side, producing 67% of new wind turbine equipment used domestically last year.
Overall, the industry supports roughly 75,000 full-time jobs in 43 states, the White House says, citing industry figures.
Without any subsidies, wind power is nearly twice as expensive on average as natural gas, according to numbers provided by New Energy Finance. Costs, though, can vary widely by region.
To help wind energy compete, the federal government has been providing a tax credit for producers that amounts to roughly 30% of costs. That credit is set to expire at the end of this year and has yet to be renewed.
About half the states have gone one step further, requiring utilities to purchase a certain percent of their power from renewable resources. Colorado, for example, has ordered its utilities to buy 30% of their power from renewable resources by 2020.
In a briefing call with reporters on Monday, a senior administration official said an extension of the wind energy tax credit is "a top priority" for President Obama. The wind industry claims that 37,000 U.S. jobs could be lost should the tax credit expire, according to a White House fact sheet on the issue.
"Not only is [wind power] allowing our country to be energy-secure -- it's also creating important jobs in the manufacturing sector," the administration official said.
The Obama Administration has made "the largest investment in clean energy in history," the White House says, with renewable energy generation now double what it was in 2008. U.S. wind turbines power the equivalent of almost 13 million American homes, the administration says.
As for wind's role in total energy production, however, the U.S. still lags behind a number of other developed nations.
As of the end of 2011, total wind power capacity in the U.S. was equal to about 3.3% of the country's electricity demand, according to the Department of Energy report. That compares with 29% in Denmark, 19% in Spain and 11% in Germany.
Utilities have been wary of placing too much wind power on their grids due to the volatility of wind strength from day to day.
Technology is advancing, however, that allows power companies to detect wind strength and adjust production from other sources on the fly.