Having reached the benchmark of being the number one source of new electric generating capacity last year, American wind power must develop a vision for predictable policies that create a stable business environment and allow the industry to grow to its full potential, industry leaders said at the WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
The wind industry gathered this week for its annual town-square event following a remarkable 2012, when wind power comprised 42% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. “That’s good news, but it’s just another chapter in a story we keep writing every day,” says EDP Renewables North America CEO and new AWEA Board Chair Gabriel Alonso, speaking at a media availability following the Opening Session.
As a result of the policy instability during the entire of American wind power’s modern history—the PTC (wind’s primary policy driver, with a companion Investment Tax Credit) has been extended mostly in mere one- and two-year increments—industry numbers have fluctuated significantly from year to year. While new wind installations totaled a record 13,131 MW last year, the industry could still be “vibrant and sustainable” if it deployed significantly less than that, says Alonso. However, a boom-bust cycle brought on by uncertain policies “does not make for a sustainable industry.”
In spite of the challenges, what the industry has accomplished is remarkable, says Alonso and other speakers. Aside from the continuous growth, “The technology evolution has been phenomenal over the last few years,” with capacity factors surging right along with the size of blades and towers.
Five industry pillars outlined
Alonso described five pillars of a strategy for the industry to achieve such stability and sustainability. First, AWEA must be strengthened so it can better advocate, provide essential data for members’ success, develop standards, powerfully convey wind power’s compelling message, and do more for the industry. “Now is the time to commit to AWEA,” says Alonso. “Now is the time to increase your commitment.”
Second, the industry must strengthen its brand against competitors and unify its message in order for America to truly understand how wind power is good for America. Third, the industry must develop a long-term plan and strategy that includes clear near-term and mid-term action steps. Fourth, members of the industry must become united by tapping the power of AWEA, its regional partners, and other vehicles to speak for wind power with one voice.
Finally: “We need you,” says Alonso succinctly. The number of people speaking to their government representatives, whether in Washington, D.C., or in their communities, must grow manyfold, he added. If 100 people today are participating in trips to the nation’s capital to visit with their representatives, that number must become 1,000. “You are powerful,” says Alonso. “You have a message that matters.”
Power Session in sync with Opening Session theme
Meanwhile, at the afternoon’s Power Session, high-level representatives of AWEA, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Wind Wildlife Institute, and the National Audubon Society joined Jose Zayas, director of the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to launch discussion of a new vision for the wind energy’s future.
According to Zayas, DOE’s new effort will succeed the “20% by 2030” technical report produced by DOE in 2008, and will take into account changes in wind technology, energy markets, and competing forms of energy in the intervening years. “My job,” Zayas says, “is to make sure wind energy is at the table and has a key part to play in the energy mix of the future.”
The process for developing the new strategy, he says, will be a collaborative one much like that employed in developing the 20% report, in which environmental groups, utilities, energy experts and others will be brought together to look at the potential for wind energy in 2020, 2030, and 2050. He says the DOE’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.
Panelists underscored the urgency of addressing climate change with clean energy. Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, says 70% of the species on Earth are at stake. “We desperately need to move quickly,” he says, using the best available science to minimize impacts on wildlife.
David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society, says environmentalists “can’t have it both ways. We can’t both say climate is the biggest threat to the plant and birds, but you really can’t put a solar panel or a wind tower in my community.” He added, “Having [the PTC] be as uncertain as it is, is terrible governance. It’s bad for business, and bad for America.”
Rob Gramlich, AWEA Interim CEO and Senior Vice President of Public Policy, expressed thanks to the environmental community for supporting the extension of the PTC. He applauded the formation and development of the American Wind Wildlife Institute, an initiative that exemplifies collaboration between wind energy and the environmental community. “It’s a jointly funded organization, and we jointly serve on its board—we need to do more of that kind of collaboration,” he says.
Industry meets its new executive leader; confirms near-term industry priority is PTC extension
Incoming AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan was officially introduced to his new industry in Monday’s Opening Session, and his introduction proved more substantial than a simple hello. Previously president of the National Parks Conservation Association since 1998, and a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush, he says his passion for wind energy is personal. “Wind power is clean, affordable, and homegrown,” he says. “The country needs us to succeed. The natural world needs us to succeed. And frankly, my children and your children need us to succeed.”
Kiernan reinforced Alonso’s call for a new vision. “We need to craft a long-term plan for both the industry and for AWEA.”
Nevertheless, near-term issues will need to be addressed, and Kiernan made that clear. At the media availability after the session, he made sure that members of the media understood the immediate matter at hand. “To be clear, it is AWEA’s top priority to extend the PTC and ITC,” he adds.
Iowa governor’s policy record exemplifies stability needed at federal level
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), a wind energy visionary since 1983, spoke of how he instituted the nation’s first state renewable energy standard that year during his first year in office. It was the “stability and predictability of that law” that has let Iowa keep reaping the economic benefits of wind power to this day, he says. Iowa today is home to some 7,000 wind energy-related jobs, and the industry continues to grow there.
Branstad says when he took office in his first stint as governor back in the 1980s, his state, and the nation, was in the middle of a farm crisis. Today wind energy provides a new revenue source for Iowa’s farmers. A “Faces of Wind” segment, which featured a group of individuals who know firsthand how wind power has positively impacted their lives and communities, included Pete Ferrell, a rancher whose family vocation has spanned 125 years. At one time, the wind was seen as a scourge to those who worked the land, he says, but that’s hardly the case now; instead, it’s a cash crop. “Wind is the most drought-resistant crop I can imagine,” he added.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an avid supporter of renewable energy for its economic benefits as well as clean-energy attributes, welcomed conferees to his city. “You can’t have a 21st-century economy if you have it sitting on a 20th-century foundation,” says Emanuel, discussing his city’s contribution to the wind industry (it’s home to several companies) and the many sustainable initiatives he has championed. Calling for sound environmental and growth policies, he spoke the language of wind energy itself, noting, “I’ve always believed those two policies go together.”
The session concluded with a surprise award for outgoing AWEA Board Chair Tom Carnahan, who was acknowledged and praised by the electric co-operative community for bringing wind power to the state of Missouri (via his former company Wind Capital Group), where co-ops are a major part of the electric utility system. The award’s name: the “Mr. Cooperative Career Award.”
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