New AWEA boss looks to craft long-term strategy for industry

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013

Tom Kiernan

Tom Kiernan, newly appointed CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. Photo courtesy of AWEA.

Coming off a banner year, the wind industry needs to chart a long-term path to maintain its momentum, its incoming top advocate says.

Tom Kiernan, who was announced yesterday as the incoming CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said his first order of business will be crafting a strategy to keep the industry vibrant for years to come.

The industry won big last year, convincing Congress to extend its vital tax credit and installing more megawatts than any other source of electricity in the United States. But an uncertain future looms, as conservative lawmakers and activists are stepping up their efforts to kill the production tax credit and as the prospects for continued government support to the industry remain an open question.

“We clearly need to be moving forward on the lobbying and advocacy front to create a stable, predictable policy platform,” Kiernan told E&E Daily yesterday in his first interview since being selected to lead the trade association.

He said the industry would be active in Washington, D.C., in state capitals and at the local level to push its policy priorities, while AWEA also would coordinate efforts among its member companies to bring costs down and become more efficient.

Prior to his work at AWEA, which officially begins at the end of next month, Kiernan led the National Parks Conservation Association since 1998, and he served at U.S. EPA under President George H.W. Bush, giving him a breadth of experience in government and managing a large organization.

He also enters the relationship on excellent terms with recently appointed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who served on the parks association’s board for eight years prior to joining the administration. Interior oversees wind farms located on public lands, which constitute a relatively narrow piece of the industry, and also enforces wildlife- and habitat-protection laws that all developers have to comply with, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Kiernan said he has the “deepest respect” for Jewell, whom he occasionally joined on hiking trips and climbs of Mount Rainier in Washington state.

NPCA was among the environmental groups that lobbied for an extension of the production tax credit last year, and Kiernan said he understands how valuable the incentive is for the industry. In the interview yesterday, he provided few specifics on AWEA’s future push, saying he needed to meet with more companies in the industry.

But he emphasized the importance of a policy framework that provides stability and certainty for at least the next several years.

Prior to Kiernan joining the association, AWEA said it would need at least six more years of the PTC, with the level of support gradually phased down over that period, for wind to remain a “minimally viable” industry. It remains an open question whether Congress would go along with that long of a time frame, and Kiernan said the time horizon would be among the topics he plans to discuss with AWEA’s members.

Whether it is four years or six years or another period, “my point is we need to have a long-term strategy for the wind industry,” he said.

Kiernan will get his first chance to meet with many of the top players in the industry next month when AWEA convenes its annual conference in Chicago. Rahm Emanuel, the city’s mayor and President Obama’s former chief of staff, will deliver remarks at the event.