NEW YORK -- Installations of wind turbine power hit a record in the United States last year despite the financial crisis that choked off funding for half the year, wind power advocates said on Thursday.
More than 10,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, or 5,700 turbines, were installed in 2009, the American Wind Energy Association said in its annual report, bringing the total capacity in the United States to 35,000 MW.
That kept the United States in the top spot globally for wind power, ahead of China and Germany, which each had about 25.8 MW of capacity. One megawatt is enough power for about 800 U.S. households.
The U.S. wind industry has grown 39 percent on average each of the last five years, and now employs about 85,000 people, many of them in states that have seen other industries close up factories in recent years, AWEA said.
"We really are one of the only bright spots out there in terms of growing the manufacturing centers," AWEA Chief Executive Denise Bode told a press conference.
Turbine makers such as Vestas Wind Systems A/S Suzlon laid off employees in the first half of 2009 as orders slowed to a halt, but activity quickly rebounded after the federal government set rules that allowed companies to use U.S. stimulus funds to help support the industry.
"It was a critical part of the success in 2009," said Don Furman, senior vice president for development at wind energy company Iberdrola Renewables, the second largest wind owner in the country behind FPL Group's (FPL.N) NextEra Energy Resources.
The federal funds were issued through a grant system that replaced a tax credit program, allowing developers who had already built projects to be reimbursed for 30 percent of their construction costs. That helped offset funds that banks pulled out of the market when the credit crisis prompted them to halt lending.
Even with the steady industry growth, wind power generation reached only 1.8 percent of the country's total, up from 1.3 percent at the end of 2008, AWEA said. Although, AWEA said it would cross the 2 percent threshhold this year.
Leading the nation in installed capacity is Texas, with 9,405 MW, followed by Iowa, with 3,679 MW, and California with 2,723 MW.
Even as fast as the U.S. market was growing, China was catching up quickly, according to Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, and the Asian country's energy appetite made it the largest new wind market in 2009.
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