To the surprise of those who still view Americans as laggards in terms of alternative energy development, more new wind power generation facilities were installed in the United States in 2005 than anywhere else in the world. According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), an international trade group which helps promote wind power globally, the U.S. installed 2,400 megawatts—equivalent to the energy produced by five large coal-fired power plants in a year—during 2005 alone. The second-place finisher, Germany, installed 1,810 megawatts of wind power last year, but leads the world in overall wind capacity, with more than 18,000 megawatts of installed wind power now online. Even after its banner year in 2005, though, the U.S. still only has about half as much total installed wind power capacity as Germany.
The fast-growing American wind power industry is grateful to Congress for extending the wind energy production tax credit which helps keep costs down on the installation of new facilities. Surges in wind energy development in the U.S. have gone hand-in-hand with the institution of the credit, which Congress let expire twice during the 1990s, sending many small wind producers into bankruptcy.
While wind power sales have become a billion-dollar global industry for companies like General Electric, still only about one percent of Americans" total energy consumption comes from it. Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute postulates that wind turbines installed on just 0.6 percent of the land area of the contiguous U.S.—mainly on the windy Great Plains—could meet more than 20 percent of current American power needs.
GWEC reports that on a global scale, 2005 saw the installation of almost 12,000 megawatts of wind power overall, representing more than a 40 percent increase from the 8,000 wind megawatts added in 2004. Worldwide, total wind power capacity now stands at almost 60,000 megawatts, an increase of 25 percent from the previous year.