U.S. wind power developers are installing record-high numbers of turbines in 2012 but that growth could weaken if a production tax credit expires at the end of this year, an industry group said.
The U.S. wind industry in August for the first time surpassed 50,000 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity - enough to power 13 million homes, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said in a report issued on Thursday.
Wind developers have added 4,728 MW of wind power so far in 2012 with another 8,430 MW under construction, a record for this time of year, AWEA said.
But the federal production tax credit for renewable energy is due to expire at the year-end. The group said the credit, which has been continuously in place since 2005, helps create more than $15 billion a year in investment in U.S. wind farms.
"This is what a successful policy looks like when it's working, but whether wind will continue to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy now depends on whether Congress acts to extend the production tax credit by the end of the year," Denise Bode, chief executive of AWEA, said in a release.
A proposal to extend the credit for projects that start construction next year won bipartisan support from the Senate Finance Committee on August 2, as part of an overall "tax extenders" package. AWEA said the bill awaits action by the full Congress, expected in its lame-duck session after the November U.S. elections.
"It is up to Congress to bring it to a vote or else lose 37,000 jobs by the first quarter of next year," Bode said, referring to a forecast by Navigant Consulting if the tax credit is not extended.
AWEA said thousands of layoffs have begun in the manufacturing and development parts of the wind business, even as the construction sector remains busy on this year's projects.
New installations totaling 1,833 MW occurred in the third quarter, bringing U.S. wind capacity to 51,628 MW as of October 1, AWEA said.
The year-to-date total stood at 4,728 MW at the end of the quarter, up 40 percent from the same point in 2011 with the average turbine size installed this year at around 2 MW, AWEA said.
The top states for new wind capacity in the third quarter were Kansas with 473 MW, Oregon with 333 MW, Texas with 281 MW, Oklahoma with 229 MW, and Nevada with 152 MW.
Nevada's wind project was its first, making it the 39th state with utility-scale wind installations, AWEA said.
Across 29 states and Puerto Rico, there are more than 8,430 MW of wind projects under construction, a record for this time of year, AWEA said.
Texas leads the country with 1,291 MW under construction, followed by California with 1,022 MW, Kansas with 836 MW, Oklahoma with 734 MW and Iowa with 597 MW.
The biggest wind power companies in the United States include units of Florida's NextEra Energy Inc, Germany's E.ON AG, Virginia's AES Corp, Spain's Iberdrola SA and France's EDF Group.
The biggest turbine makers worldwide include Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S, America's General Electric Co, Spain's Gamesa, Germany's Enercon, India's Suzlon Energy Ltd and Germany's Siemens AG.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Dale Hudson)