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Wind power deployment fell sharply in the United States after ramping up quickly for three straight years. The change puts the U.S. behind China in terms of total wind power sources deployed, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

China added 18,900 megawatts’ worth of wind turbines in 2010, bringing the country’s total deployment up to about 45,000 megawatts. The U.S. only added 5,116 megawatts’ worth of wind turbines, down from more than 10,000 megawatts in 2009.

The U.S. has so far deployed wind turbines that can generate around 40,200 megawatts of electricity — enough to power around 10 million homes. Wind power companies have begun manufacturing farms that can generate around 5,600 megawatts as of the beginning of the year, according to reports.

That’s still only 2 percent of all energy produced in the United States. Wind power became more popular in 2009 as a renewable energy source, largely because China began rapidly deploying several wind farms to help meet the country’s massive energy needs. Chinese households consumed about 4.2 million gigawatt-hours in 2010. But a slowing economic climate made wind energy less viable when compared to other cheaper forms of energy, such as natural gas.

That’s because wind turbines typically carry large capital costs — meaning the upfront cost of building and operating a turbine will take a long time to break even with the money saved by using wind power. Most wind turbines generate anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts of power, and the costs vary from state to state. For example, wind power turbine manufacturer First Wind has a 30-megawatt wind farm in Hawaii that cost $125 million to build and a 57-megawatt wind farm in Maine that cost $140 million to make.

There are also some concerns about whether the wind turbines create a bit of an eyesore — leading to a “not-in-my-backyard” complaint about the renewable energy source. The power source is much more popular in specific states — such as Texas, which boasts 10,085 megawatts, nearly triple the next closest competitor. So far, there are still around 10.4 million megawatts that can be generated by onshore wind farms, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

[Photo: Theo R]

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