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Clean Sweep to the Wall

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s September 2012 Energy Infrastructure Update, every megawatt of new electrical generating capacity installed in the United States in September was either wind or solar power.

However, this is solely the case for September; the cumulative January through September data gathered shows natural gas and coal are still staples for the United States’ energy palate. 433 megawatts of electricity generated from clean sources, which in this case is wind and solar, were installed in the U.S. in September, bringing the January through September total for wind power to 4,055 megawatts, and 936 megawatts from solar power.

The wind power generation total is higher than last year’s January-September total of 3,239 megawatts, and it brought wind’s overall installed operating generating capacity to 51.07 gigawatts, 4.43 percent of total U.S. generating capacity. The 133 megawatts which solar energy generated represents more than 14 percent of the year-to-date’s 936 megawatts, signaling robust growth within the industry. Additionally, the solar data was only gathered from utility-scale projects, excluding residential and business projects, which inspires confidence in the actual amount of solar energy produced in the country.

With the amount of progress wind and solar energy have recently made, many find it hard to believe the low contribution amounts from these sources to the country’s overall energy demands. While the confusion is legitimate, the foundation of the confusion is located in the politics of the issue, and in Congress.

Wind energy is on the ropes because investors and clients have little confidence in how the industry will rebound if the federal tax credits associated with investing in and producing solar energy are allowed to expire at the end of the year.

Minimal action from Congress on extending the tax credits hasn’t helped inspire confidence, and wind energy is suffering as a result.

Solar energy is the victim of fossil-fuel-dependent, investor-owned utilities that provide about 85 percent of America’s electricity. The issue is the utilities see solar as both a technical challenge and a long-term threat to their profit models which require fossil fuels to be consumed. The vested interests in maintaining the status quo are flexing their muscles, and solar energy is being beaten.

Unfortunately, it appears clean, renewable energy has hit a wall.

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