wind turbinesAre dark clouds rolling in?Photo: petter palanderOn Tuesday, ground was broken for what will likely become the largest wind farm in the country — 600-some turbines in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles that will eventually provide electricity to 600,000 homes in Southern California.

Clearly, renewable energy is taking off in the U.S.  Right? 

Ah, no.  And unless Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) allows a renewable electricity standard to be added to the Senate spill bill and rounds up 60 votes for the package, the situation may only get worse.

Here’s some of the recent not-so-good news for renewable energy:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Bust in the wind: For all the happy feelings about wind power — 89 percent of respondents to a recent poll said they thought the U.S. needed to increase its supply of wind energy — it’s a sector moving backward. Through the first half of this year, the number of megawatts of wind power installed dropped 71 percent from the same period last year. Said Denise Bode, head of the American Wind Energy Association, “It’s dismal and getting worse.”

Blow, baby, blow: Energy suppliers are still wrestling with the unpredictability of wind power, reports Matthew Wald in The New York Times. Companies have to dump energy late at night when it’s not needed and grid operators can’t adjust the supply of energy to meet demand like they can with fossil fuels. There’s hope that innovative storage batteries will solve the problem, but they’re still in the early stages of development.

Show me the money: More than 20 wind and solar projects in California are almost good to go — except that they’re being held up by the Department of Energy’s tedious process for guaranteeing loans. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) expressed his displeasure about the situation in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, writes Marc Lifsher in the Los Angeles Times

Trees, don’t fail me now: The use of biomass energy took a hit this summer when a Massachusetts team of scientists concluded that burning trees could cause more greenhouse-gas emissions than coal. So now Massachusetts is tightening its regulations on the use of biomass, requiring that it would have to cut emissions by 50 percent over any fossil fuel source it replaces. 

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

China syndrome:  As if news from within the U.S. weren’t gloomy enough, China is now kicking our butts when it comes to clean energy. Last year, it invested almost $35 billion in renewable power — nearly twice what the U.S. spent. And China also now leads the world in producing wind turbines and solar panels.

Now that’s not change we need.