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Wind Power - Not Hot Air

America’s commitment to wind power isn’t all hot air.

Roughly 10,000 megawatts of new wind-power generation capacity was built in the United States in 2009 – enough to provide electricity to nearly 2.5 million homes. That new capacity alone is adequate to power all of the homes in Colorado and Wyoming combined.

All together, wind-power capacity now stands at about 35,000 megawatts, according to a report from the trade group American Wind Energy Association. That’s only about 2 percent of the nation’s electric-generation capacity, but since 2003, the annual growth rate has been nearly 40 percent.

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Our home state of Texas accounts for more than a quarter of the national wind-power capacity – wind farms, most of them in the western part of the state, provide 6 percent of the state’s electricity. Iowa and California are also big producers.

About 85,000 people are employed in the U.S. wind-power industry, with jobs including manufacturing, installation and maintenance. Not only is wind an energy story, it’s also a major infrastructure story.

The U.S. is the world’s leading wind power generator, but it’s also a growing energy component in China, where air pollution from coal-fired plants is a major health issue and potential threat to future economic growth.

A recent story in The New Yorker magazine points out that wind-generated electricity in China has doubled each year since 2006, and that the country is a leading innovator in wind turbine design and production.

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The knock on wind is that it is not a viable power source in the U.S. without government subsidies, but that’s less of a knock than it used to be.

The AWEA says the cost of wind-generated electricity has been slashed by 90 percent over the past two decades – taller towers, better turbines and economies of scale created by large wind farms have all contributed. As the industry grows in size and acceptance, the economics stand to improve further.

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