Turbine Timeline: 1980s

U.S. wind energy grows in California, then stagnates nationwide in the 1980s

1980

  • The World’s first wind farm is installed on the shoulder of Crotched Mountain, N.H., by U.S. Windpower. The wind farm has 20 turbines at 30 kW each, with a generating capacity of 600 kilowatt (kW) total.

1981

  • The first large wind projects are built for wind resource areas in Altamont Pass and Tehachapi, Calif., by multiple wind energy developers. At this time little is known about siting practices, and the interaction between wind and wildlife is poorly understood.
  • President Ronald Reagan cuts government funding for R&D of alternative energy sources. During Reagan’s administration, the federal wind energy budget drops by nearly 90 percent.

1982

  • A California “wind rush” is spurred by the California Public Utility Commission (PUC)’s first 30-year Standard Offer Contracts, which require utilities in the state to make long-term purchase agreements for alternative energy.
  • AWEA’s second Executive Director, Tom Gray, certifies AWEA as an official trade association with a mission to strengthen the wind industry’s influence on policy and promote member businesses to policy makers. Gray also starts the industry’s first weekly newsletter.
  • WINDPOWER occurs in Amarillo. Vaughn Nelson of the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas State University and Nolan Clark of the USDA Agricultural Research Station in Bushland, Texas, offer to host AWEA's annual conference at a hotel in Amarillo, Texas, helping out the young organization's finances. Clark and AEI students donate audio-visual services to WINDPOWER for years after.

1983

  • Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) signs the first state renewable energy mandate, a forerunner to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The law requires Iowa’s investor-owned utilities to use renewable-energy sources – wind in particular – for over 100 megawatt (MW) of their power generation. However, the law is not enforced or implemented until 1997.

1985

  • Oil prices drop. California utilities stop signing contracts to buy wind power because the standard offer contracts, which had been so successful in spurring wind development, were no longer required by the state’s PUC.
  • The most commonly installed wind turbine in the United States is U.S. Windpower’s 56-100 kW machine (which is 100 kW). Many of these turbines are still operating today.

1986

  • California’s prolific wind farms reach 1,200 MW, representing essentially all of the country’s wind power. Altamont Pass alone has 6,200 turbines, which total 583 MW. However, wind turbines at the time require frequent maintenance.
  • Federal Energy Investment Tax Credit expires. The lack of financial incentive puts most American wind turbine manufacturers out of business and halts development. Leadership in the wind power industry moves from the United States to Europe.

1989

  • Randy Swisher becomes AWEA’s third Executive Director. AWEA has 4.5 staff positions. Under Swisher’s leadership, AWEA establishes a strong presence in the state and federal advocacy arena. Meanwhile, AWEA membership tops 200 organizations.