Wind industry announces boom year, crowns Xcel utility leader

Birds fly past wind turbines
Wind now supplies a quarter of energy in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas. Growth is expected to continue.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images file

Wind energy growth in the Upper Midwest and elsewhere puts the U.S. on pace to derive 10 percent of its electricity from wind by 2020, the American Wind Energy Association announced Wednesday.

While new wind turbines are going up, many existing turbines are producing more energy, thanks to longer blades, association CEO Tom Kiernan said.

"The industry is innovating," he said, adding that growth is also fueled by a federal wind production tax credit and state policies that encourage renewable energy.

Kiernan said the wind industry is contributing to economic growth in rural America and now supports over 100,000 jobs.

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"We are investing in communities that are often economically challenged," he said.

Kiernan also announced Minnesota-based Xcel Energy has again been crowned the nation's wind energy leader among utilities, a position it has held for over a decade.

Xcel said roughly 20 percent of its energy comes from wind in the eight states it serves. That percentage will grow to one third by 2021.

CEO Ben Fowke said the combination of technological improvements and state and federal policies have made wind energy more attractive.

"You have a unique opportunity to bring wind on that is cheaper as an energy source than fossil alternatives, both natural gas and coal," he said. "We estimate that our customers in our eight-state region, with a lot of them right here in Minnesota, are going to save billions of dollars over traditional fuel sources."

Xcel hopes to achieve a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2021.

Fowke said while federal policies are changing, favorable economics will continue to drive wind growth.