Wind power fastes growing energy source

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing sources of energy around the world. It is popular because it is abundant and provides many communities with a clean, local source of electricity. Assisted by technological innovation and years of government subsidies, the cost of wind power — and solar power — has fallen sharply, so much so that the two industries say that they can sometimes deliver cleaner electricity at prices competitive with power made from fossil fuels.

In the United States, which passed Germany to become the country producing the most wind power, the Department of Energy has estimated that wind power could account for 20 percent of the nation’s electricity supply by 2030.

The American Wind Energy Association said the growth of wind power was helped by a federal stimulus package that extended a tax credit and provided other investment incentives for the industry. According to the association, wind projects account for more than a third of all the new electric generation installed in recent years, while over the last six years, domestic wind turbine production has grown twelvefold, to more than 400 facilities in 43 states. A recent study found that in 2012 the industry would support 78,000 jobs, but that number could fall to 41,000 in 2013 without an extension of the production tax credit.

Wind and solar companies are telling Congress that they cannot be truly competitive and keep creating jobs without a few more years of government support.

But the lobbying by the wind and solar industries comes at a time when there is little enthusiasm for alternative-energy subsidies in Washington.

Overall concerns about the deficit are making lawmakers more skeptical about any new tax breaks for business in general. And taxpayer losses of more than half a billion dollars on Solyndra, a bankrupt maker of solar modules that defaulted on a federal loan, has tarnished the image of renewable power in particular. Solyndra was financed under a now-expired program, part of the 2009 stimulus package, that provided government loan guarantees for clean-energy projects, some of which administration officials expected to be risky.

But wind and solar companies argue that the tax breaks they are seeking are different. The tax credits can be taken only by businesses that are already up and running, so taxpayers are less likely to be stuck subsidizing a failing company, proponents say.

Without the new breaks, industry executives warn, they will be forced to scale back production and eliminate jobs in a still-weak economy.