Only 700MW of new wind capacity was added in the US during the second quarter, bringing the total for the first half of the year to 1.24GW, less than half of what was installed in the same period during 2008 and 2009, and marking the start of what could be a dire chapter for the industry.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) releases its second quarter market report (PDF) as the Senate takes up energy legislation this week.
The industry association is at the head of a broad coalition begging lawmakers to implement a national renewable electricity standard (RES) to stabilise the market and clear a path for stable, long-term growth.
"Strong federal policy supporting the US wind energy industry has never been more important," says AWEA chief executive Denise Bode in a statement.
"We have an historic opportunity to build a major new manufacturing industry. Without strong, supportive policy like an RES to spur demand, investment, and jobs, manufacturing facilities will go idle and lay off workers if Congress doesn't act now - before time runs out this session."
Congress is scheduled to take a month-long break beginning the second week of August and reconvening in September, leaving only a brief window before November mid-term elections.
Installations through the first half of 2010 declined of 57% from the same period in 2008 and 71% from 2009, according to AWEA figures, and signal a return of the boom-bust cycle that has plagued the industry for a decade.
The second half of the year has historically been stronger than the first for the US wind industry, and the AWEA counts more than 5.5GW of projects under construction. Still, the association sees 2010 total installed capacity coming in at 5.5GW-7.5GW, a decline of 25%-45% from the record set in 2009.
The outlook for the future is even worse. Developers will sprint to begin projects before 31 December to qualify for a 30% federal cash grant in lieu of tax credits, likely creating a bolus of new capacity coming on line in 2011.
But beyond the "coasting momentum" that is carrying the industry now "there is no demand", the AWEA says.
Few new power purchase agreements are being signed, thanks to reduced demand for electricity, tougher competition from low natural gas prices and no national policy driving utilities to procure renewable energy (although 37 states, including the District of Columbia, have their own RESs).
As a result, the association continues, the "industry is sputtering out".
This dismal future is dragging down new wind energy manufacturing facility investment, an important contributor of stable, well-paying industry jobs at a time when reducing national unemployment is a top concern.
The AWEA says two new turbine factories have opened thus far in 2010, down from seven in 2008 and five in 2009.