Wind power expanded so much in 2016 that it is now the largest source of renewable electricity capacity in the United States, an industry group reported Thursday.
In a study, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said wind energy grew at its second-fastest pace ever during the last three months of 2016. Wind passed conventional hydropower dams to become the largest source of renewable electricity capacity in the U.S., and the fourth-largest energy source overall.
“American wind power is now the number one source of renewable capacity, thanks to more than 100,000 wind workers across all 50 states,” AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said in a statement.
“Growing this made-in-the-USA clean energy resource helps rural communities pay for new roads, bridges, and schools, while bringing back manufacturing jobs to the Rust Belt.
Electricity capacity is one of several metrics used in the energy sector, measuring the maximum potential electric output for a generator.
Electricity generation is the amount of electricity a source actually produces. At the end of 2015, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, wind power accounted for 4.7 percent of electricity generation in the United States, behind coal (33 percent), natural gas (33 percent), nuclear (20 percent) and hydropower (6 percent).
Despite the milestone, the hydropower industry still leads in renewable capacity when taking into account both conventional hydroelectric dams and pump storage power, according to an EIA analysis.
“The good news is that hydropower isn’t tapped out and it has room to grow,” the National Hydropower Association said, citing a report showing its lead in renewable electricity generation.
“Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy found that hydropower can sustainably grow by 50 gigawatts by 2050. We can energize non-powered dams and reinvest in existing hydropower infrastructure to foster economic development and job growth.”
AWEA said it expects to generate enough wind power to account for 10 percent of the U.S.'s electricity by 2020.
The report — and AWEA’s goals for the industry — is likely to serve as fodder for congressional debates over the energy mix in the United States, as well as long-term disputes over tax incentives for renewable energy.
A wind production tax credit — a key incentive for the industry — is set to expire in 2019, though Congress has renewed it several times in the past.
—This post has been updated.