Wind energy certainly has its challenges. Developers have their eyes set on greater wind speeds and that means taller towers and longer blades, but no one wants to pay higher prices. It’s also been a year full of funding and tax credit uncertainty, at least until recently.
But at an American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conference last month, the head of the organization had some refreshing news to share about the progress of wind power in the United States and the future plans of the AWEA organization.
“It is a momentous time for the industry even though there are still a lot of strategies to discuss for the future success of wind power,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “We have a lot of momentum going right now. We are the number one energy producer in the world. We have increased tenfold the amount of wind energy in the U.S. over the last 10 years and the industry has invested $100 billion in its growth.”
Despite the fact that wind turbines are increasing in size, overall costs haven’t gone up over recent years. “We’ve significantly cut our costs by 66% over the last six years.”
According to Kiernan, when you look at the electricity bills from the top 11 states that produce the most amount of wind energy, those energy prices have declined over the last five years. In comparison, the electricity rates in the states with the least amount of wind energy have increased over the same period of time.
“We are proving to the country that we are an affordable source of power,” said Kiernan. As another example, he said that on October 2 wind energy generated over 50% of Colorado’s power needs for a full 24 hours and at an extremely affordable cost. “So I don’t want to hear any more criticism about this industry, such that it’s an intermittent resource or that it’s unreliable,” he stated.
Wind power has had its share of state-level successes over the last few years, but Kiernan would like to see that momentum reach national levels. “Wind is a strong, good industry but it’s not yet great,” he admitted. “We don’t yet have a national scale or the consistent, strong, year-over-year growth that a great industry has, so we’re working on becoming great.”
To this end, AWEA is putting together a five-year plan that was recently approved by their board. Part of the plan includes a strategy to meet the Department of Energy’s “Wind Vision” goal to go from 5% wind-power generation to 10% by 2020—and doubling again by 2030.
“The plan is to go from a good industry to a truly great one,” said Kiernan. “To do so, these pillars depend upon a strong foundation that includes improved political engagement, greater member value, and an even stronger AWEA organization.”
On the policy front, AWEA has broken down the 140-gigawatts it will take to get to 20% wind energy in the U.S. by 2030 and has listed the different ways it will take to get there.
One example: The Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP has been labeled a historic game changer in the U.S. and sets forth a plan to substantially reduce the country’s carbon emissions. In June of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions standard for existing fossil-fuel plants under the Clean Air Act. The resultant CPP sets an overall goal of CO2-emission reductions of 30% below the 2005 levels by 2030, or about 18% below the 2012 levels.
Another driver at the top of AWEA’s policy list has been the extension of PTC. And, as of last week, their efforts paid off. The U.S. House of Representatives voted and the PTC and alternative ITC will now be extended for 2015 and 2016, and continue at 80% of present value in 2017, 60% in 2018, and 40% in 2019. As before, the rules will allow wind projects to qualify so long as construction starts before the end of the period.
“With predictable policies now in place, we will continue advancing wind turbine technology, driving down our costs, and passing the savings on to American families and businesses in all corners of the country,” Kiernan said in a related press statement. “We look forward to building a future with more affordable, reliable, clean wind energy.”
Kiernan said it helped that AWEA got key players and members of Congress out to visit wind farms in the country. “There’s often nothing more exciting to a member of Congress or their staff than to personally see the innovative technology that we have to offer with wind — seeing is believing,” he said.
Over the last few months, AWEA has also reached out to new advocates. “We recently built a strong relationship with the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. I spoke to this group a few months back and many were getting ready to lobby Capitol Hill on a number of issues, including the production tax credit. They saw the renewal of the PTC as an important step toward energy security and as a family value. Their thinking: let’s increase the number of jobs in the country and ensure affordable electricity for everyone.”
Advocating for the CPP and PTC is critical to the future of the wind industry, but AWEA is also looking to remove barriers that would lower the amount of future deployable wind energy. This includes the viability of transmission lines and feasibility of permitting processes.
“As part of our five-year plan, we are significantly increasing our investment in transmission,” said Kiernan, who also acknowledged the progress of the Rock Island Clean Line, a proposed 500-mile high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line in the Midwest. “The Clean Line would provide four to six times the amount of energy—all wind energy—of what the Hoover Dam provides at this time.” The line is awaiting final approval.
In terms of permitting, Kiernan pointed to the best-management practices AWEA released this fall that established a new voluntary operating protocol. It is expected to reduce impacts to bats from operating turbines by as much as 30%. “We need to continue to assist the federal and state governments in streamlining the permitting process,” he said.
As another way to promote best practices and to increase its membership value, AWEA has added several educational campaigns to its platform. One example of this is the organization’s Stop-the-Drop campaign that took place this October to raise awareness and help prevent dropped tools. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from all industries in the U.S., over 10,000 injuries were recorded in 2013 as a result of fallen objects that resulted in days away from work.
The organization is also introducing new educational certification processes for wind technicians and employees. “We just launched an information and networking forum on transportation and logistics, which is a virtual community where employees can come together and share best practices,” Kiernan said.
“Every little bit counts,” he added, and was proved right by the recent extension of the tax credits. “Our ultimate goal is to be the number one electric generator in the country,” Kiernan said. “With the right steps, I believe we can do it and I look forward to working with you to becoming the next great power industry.”
Filed Under: News, Policy