AWEA looks to step up lobbying, political contributions

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013

CHICAGO — Wind industry leaders are urging their members to spend more time lobbying and give more money to political campaigns as they seek to craft a long-term strategy to win supportive policies at the federal, state and local level and defend against their well-funded critics.

The American Wind Energy Association opened its annual conference here with an appeal for industry officials to get more involved in the political process as the organization’s new CEO and board chairman acknowledged that they had a lot of work ahead to design a plan to allow for stable growth for years to come.

The industry’s focus in recent years has been on maintaining the production tax credit, an effort that largely monopolized its lobbying resources last year, which ended with Congress extending the credit to projects that begin construction by the end of 2013.

Gabriel Alonso, the CEO of EDP Renewables North America and chairman of AWEA’s board of directors, told AWEA members the industry’s short-term goal was clear: win a PTC extension of one to three years.

But what if he asked conference attendees what they would need over a longer time frame? “I don’t think I’d get a single answer,” Alonso said in his opening remarks at the conference.

The industry should aim to add about 8,000 megawatts of generation per year, Alonso said, and to avoid the start-and-stop cycle that has surrounded reliance on the PTC. Wind was the largest source of new electricity generation last year, with more than 13,000 MW installed as developers raced to complete projects ahead of the PTC deadline. With few orders placed last year and more leeway in the “begin construction” PTC threshold, analysts expect this year’s wind build will be much smaller, around 3,000 to 5,000 MW.

Incoming AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan divulged few details on what options the industry is considering for the longer term, but he said at a news conference that the approach would “likely have a suite of policy strategies within it.”

Kiernan emphasized the need for the industry to be flexible in working with Congress and to recognize the political realities in Washington.

The ongoing tight fiscal environment has increased skepticism toward energy policies that come with high price tags, and the most recent extension of the PTC is estimated to cost the government $12 billion over the next decade. But winning another extension to the PTC — and the related investment tax credit — remains AWEA’s No. 1 immediate priority, Kiernan stressed.

“It is AWEA’s top priority to extend the PTC and ITC, and we’ll do everything in our power to ensure that’s extended whether that’s this year or next year,” Kiernan said at the news conference.

In his opening remarks, Kiernan urged AWEA’s members to maintain a presence in Washington with the industry “in flux” and the industry’s adversaries continuing a well-heeled campaign to end the PTC. He encouraged companies to work with local chambers of commerce, landowners and other stakeholders to mobilize grass-roots supporters to counter their well-funded opposition.

But he said traditional fundraising also would be important. AWEA’s political action committee donated more than $300,000 to federal candidates for last year’s elections, 58 percent to Democrats and 39 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Kiernan said that the PAC raised about $50,000 at a fundraiser last night but that more would be needed.

“Our adversaries are going to outgun us on the money side,” he said, pointing to the ability for grass-roots wind supporters to counter some of that. But he added, “We do need to raise a lot more money for the wind PAC.”