High natural-gas prices and global-warming concerns may help wind energy gain critical mass.
Out in the dwindling oil fields around McCamey, Texas, where rattlesnakes outnumber people and black-gold gushers once blew their tops, a new energy geyser is blowing - wind power.
More than 860 wind turbines today pinwheel where oil derricks once bloomed, cranking out pollution-free megawatts for wind developers like FPL Energy, a Juno Beach, Fla., utility with the nation's largest wind-power portfolio. In turn, that energy is transmitted to cities like Austin.
"We call our town the wind energy capital of Texas," says Sherry Phillips, McCamey's wind-centric mayor.
With wind farms popping up from New York to Texas to California, wind power is riding high in the saddle again. Explosive growth of more than 40 percent this year - 3,400 megawatts of new generation is expected - could make the United States the world's largest wind-power market, a new report shows.
In the past, the wind industry has soared or swooped depending on whether Congress renewed the wind-energy production tax credit, as it did last fall. But amid the current boom, some say it won't be long until the industry is ready to stand on its own.
Rising natural-gas prices, new state mandates requiring clean energy, and utilities' concerns over global warming are key forces. Together, they leave the wind with enough momentum and critical mass to keep growing even if Congress does not renew the tax credits, some argue.
"The big story is that the North American wind-power market is reaching an entirely new level," says Godfrey Chua, research director at Emerging Energy Research, a research firm in Cambridge, Mass. "This year will see the beginning of the end of the boom-and-bust cycle that has plagued the US wind industry."
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