I'm amazed I hadn't heard about this already - there is obviously some important gap in my set of blog/news subscriptions. I just decided I wanted to know whether the growth in US wind installations had continued in 2010, so I went to the American Wind Energy Association website, and ended up at their Q4 2010 market report. I was horrified to see the graph above, showing that new installations collapsed in 2010 (though with some recovery in Q4).
The AWEA doesn't give a very clear account of the reasons for the collapse. They say things like:
The boom-and-bust cycle that has developed due to short-term incentives is not conducive to business investment and increased employment.
This chart of new installations of wind generating capacity by quarter clearly illustrates the consequences of on-again, off-again short-term federal incentives for wind as a market signal. In that connection, it’s important to understand that wind projects can be built so quickly (in six months to a year) that the entire pace of activity in the wind industry can be driven by the month-to-month prospects of, say, a tax incentive extension pending before Congress.
I at least would like a clearer and more detailed account of what happened. I'm guessing it probably also has to do with the fact that natural gas prices have declined from the highs in 2008:
We need much more wind power. When wind power goes wrong, it kills the odd bird or maybe the occasional worker. Some people don't like the look of the towers. But we need power, and wind power doesn't destabilize the climate, and it doesn't irradiate hundreds of square miles of farmland. So this collapse in investment is terrible news.
I understand why the US congress and the Obama administration was not able to pass climate change legislation, but it's a terrible commentary on their energy/environmental policy that they weren't even able to maintain the pace of growth in wind installation.
In the meantime, I urge my readers to ensure their own power is coming from renewable sources. In the US, Green-E can help you figure out what the options are in your state.