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U.S. wind power capacity up in 2009

Industry group says power-generating capacity rose 39 percent, but the number of U.S. jobs associated with wind energy was flat last year, thanks in part to the recession.

WASHINGTON--U.S. wind power capacity soared 39 percent last year but job growth stalled as uncertainty about renewable-energy policies and the recession slowed manufacturing, an industry group said.

The combined power-generating capacity of new U.S. wind turbines installed last year hit more than 9,900 megawatts, up from a gain of over 8,400 MW in the previous year. Total capacity hit more than 35,000 MW, or about enough to power 9.7 million homes, the American Wind Energy Association said.

Total U.S. jobs associated with wind energy, stalled at 85,000, about flat from the previous year as the recession took a toll on manufacturing. In 2008, job growth surged as the sector added 35,000 positions.

Denise Bode, chief executive of AWEA, said jobs stalled because of tight financing and uncertainty about wind power incentives, including long-term tax credits and a national mandate for renewable energy.

She said President Barack Obama's recovery act that set aside billions of dollars for renewable energy helped prevent job losses. Some 1,500 to 2,000 jobs were lost in wind power manufacturing, but those jobs were made up for with gains in construction and maintenance at wind power farms, she said.

AWEA wants Congress to pass national mandates for generating renewable power, which are expected to be included in a compromise climate bill to be considered by the Senate this year.

"We are trying to convince European wind manufacturers to invest in the United States but first they want to know what policies will be in place," said Bode.

The United States overtook Germany in 2008 as the world's top wind power generator. But China, which unlike the United States, has set national clean-energy targets, may take the top spot for 2009 when the results are finalized.

"We are in a foot race with the Chinese who are providing more and more incentives and mandates for the industry," said Bode.

Texas led the country in added wind capacity last year with nearly 2,300 MW, followed by Indiana with 905 MW and Iowa with 879 MW. The gains came despite billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens' announcement last summer that he would postpone construction of a huge wind farm in Texas.

Wind accounted for about 6 percent of the electricity produced last year in Texas, according to the state.

Wind power generated only about 1 percent of power supply for the entire country last year.

Bode said if the country adopted national renewable-electricity mandates investors would put more money into building transmission lines to carry more wind from the gusty center of the country to cities with high power demand.