Texas has historically been known as an oil rich state. Now it has become the leading centre for the wind energy boom that has been sweeping the United States.
By the end of last year over 7,100 MW of wind power capacity was operating in Texas, more than any other US state. The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, spread across a vast area of West Texas, is the largest in the world. Through three stages of development it has reached a total installed capacity of 735 Megawatts (MW), with 421 individual wind turbines. On average, it can supply enough electricity for 180,000 Texan homes.
The wind farm has helped boost employment in West Texas, which was in economic decline until the wind industry arrived. In Nolan County, where many of the Horse Hollow turbines are located, the oil wells began to dry up in the 1990s, and by 2004, 20% of the population was living in poverty, according to the US Census Bureau.
Wind power has offered a new lease of life to the area. A study by the community-based West Texas Wind Energy Consortium found that over 1,100 of Nolan County's roughly 15,000 residents now have jobs directly related to wind energy. Wind energy has also benefited the county in other ways: With more wind farms coming into operation, Nolan County's property tax base has already expanded from $500 million in 1999 to $2.4 billion in 2008. The increased tax revenues are being spent on new roads and school renovations. Wind power is growing rapidly in Texas, and at least one new project there may surpass Horse Hollow in size in 2009.
Overall in the US, around 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry today, which represents a 70% increase from 50,000 a year ago. They hold jobs in areas as varied as turbine component manufacturing, construction and installation of wind turbines, wind turbine operations and maintenance, legal and marketing services, and more. Last year alone, 55 new wind industry facilities opened, expanded or were announced in the US.
Last year the US installed a world record capacity of wind power - 8,300 MW. "The US wind energy industry's performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo," says Denise Bode, Chief Executive of the American Wind Energy Association, "ready to deliver on the President's call to double renewable energy production in three years."
Wind energy is flourishing in the United States as a result of both national and state incentives--. In Texas, a Renewables Portfolio Standard (also referred to as Renewable Electricity Standard) stipulates that that 5,800 MW of the state's electricity generation capacity must use renewable sources (mainly wind) by 2015. At the national level, the recent relative stability of the federal production tax credit helped spur dramatic growth across the U.S.
What is needed now is a national Renewable Electricity Standard to create a long-term, stable market for capital investment in wind power and other renewable energy sources. A study by the US Department of Energy concludes that 20% of the country's electricity could come from wind energy by 2030.
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