WASHINGTON, Oct. 26- Advocates say recent developments, including an annual report showing America’s small wind turbine industry experienced substantial growth in 2010, and a bill introduced in the Senate that would expand a 30% business investment for community wind projects, are signs that wind energy is growing in rural areas.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said a 26% expansion in the market for small wind systems was recorded in 2010, with 25.6 megawatts (MW) of capacity added. The year also ended with a “robust” increase in sales revenue, showing nearly 8,000 small wind units sold, many to rural homes, farms and business, totaling $139 million in sales compared to $91 million the previous year.

Small wind turbines are defined as those that are 100 kilowatts and under. AWEA says the U.S. small wind industry represents an estimated 1,500 full-time equivalent jobs, and that materials used in the manufacture of turbines in North America are typically 80% domestically produced.

“Across the country people are saving money and helping the environment by using small wind turbines to power their homes, farms and businesses” said Larry Flowers, AWEA Deputy Director of Distributed and Community Wind. “This report shows that the market for clean, affordable, homegrown wind energy is as good in small scale applications as it is for large utilities.”

Looking at the wind industry overall, a market report analyzing the third quarter shows significant growth over the three-month period, with the installation of more than 1,200 megawatts (MW) in new capacity from July through September of this year. That brings the total to date in 2011 up to 3,360 MW. However, the industry has more than 8,400 MW under construction, more than in any quarter since 2008.

Industry officials cite the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) as driving as much as $20 billion a year in private investment. “This shows what we’re capable of: adding new, affordable electric generation,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “Traditional tax incentives are working. There’s a lot of business right now, people are employed, and manufacturers are looking to expand here in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., have introduced a measure, the Community Wind Act, that would put a twist on the production tax credit by converting it to an existing small-wind investment tax credit (ITC) for projects with a capacity of up to 20 MW.

Currently, a 30% ITC is available for wind turbines with a nameplate capacity of up to 100 kW. The ITC is also available for solar and geothermal projects. The new legislation amends the credit by expanding it to projects with total capacity of more than 100 kW, but no more than 20 MW. There would no restriction on the size of any individual turbine.

Advocates say changing the tax incentive from a PTC to an ITC and making it more available for smaller, community wind projects encourages wider investment, boosting the viability of community wind projects.


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