Trump’s ‘fossil-fuel fetish’ doesn’t make economic sense, legislator says

Source: By Rob Nikolewski, San Diego Union Tribune • Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2017

While leaders of the U.S. wind industry sounded a diplomatic tone Tuesday about dealing with the Trump administration, the keynote speaker at the industry’s biggest conference did not hold back.

“President Trump’s fossil-fuel fetish, economically, does not make any sense,” California state Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) told a few hundred of the estimated 7,000 attendees at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) WindPower 2017 Conference and Exhibition at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Moments later, speaking to reporters, de León doubled down.

“We have people who make up this present administration who are not climate change deniers, they’re climate change liars,” said de León, who earlier this year introduced a Senate bill that would require California to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045.

Some of the wind industry’s executives were much more conciliatory.

During a panel discussion minutes after de León left the stage, they used words like “open” and “interesting” when describing what Trump’s surprise victory last November might mean for the wind industry.

One day after getting elected chairman of AWAE’s board, Tristan Grimbert, CEO of San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy, told the crowd, “The political context is a little challenging.”

The Trump White House has promoted “An America First Energy Plan” that highlights shale oil and natural gas while “reviving America’s coal industry.”

Some in the wind industry see some positives in former Texas governor Rick Perry being named secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy since Texas is No. 1 in the nation in installed wind capacity.

But at roughly the same time the conference in Anaheim was wrapping up its morning session, a proposed budget was released by the Trump administration that called for a drastic reduction in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

AWAE’s CEO Tom Kiernan emphasized the wind industry’s growth in recent years.

“We’re delivering on our promises and our vision,” Kiernan told attendees. “We are not just here to stay but to grow and grow and grow.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the nation’s wind power generation capacity is expected to top 100 gigawatts by the end of next year, which would account for 9 percent of the electric power sector’s total generation capacity.

In California, wind power accounted for 8.2 percent of the state’s energy mix in 2015, the most recent year measured by the California Energy Commission. That’s 2.2 percent more than solar in the state’s energy mix and a nearly four-fold increase since 2006.

While countries in Europe — Denmark in particular — have outpaced the U.S. when it comes to offshore wind energy, the outlook is improving.

The nation’s first offshore wind farm went online last December in Rhode Island, supplying electricity for 2,000 customers. Earlier this month, the local power company was able to pull the plug on its diesel generators.

Two weeks ago, the Public Service Commission in Maryland approved plans to build two offshore facilities that will cost a combined $2 billion.

Building offshore wind farms along the Pacific Coast is a tougher proposition.

The depth of the outer continental shelf makes it very difficult to bolt turbines to the seabed but at least two companies have filed applications to build floating offshore wind farms in the Morro Bay area.

“There’s huge potential and we just need to work our way through the technology and implementation issues,” Kiernan said.

But the industry has other headwinds, so to speak.

Spurred by government incentives, the wind energy industry has grown quickly.

“Over the years when we said, give us a stable, multiyear trajectory, the wind industry would respond well,” said Kiernan. “And guess what, the wind industry is responding well.”

Federal tax credits were extended at the end of 2015 but the production and investment credits are each getting phased down on an annual basis and are scheduled to be eliminated by the end of 2019.

Is the industry worried the tax credits might get eliminated outright before 2019?

“We’re getting a sense from the administration and both sides of the aisle (in Congress) that people respect that,” Kiernan said. “We’re confident that will stay in place.”

Kiernan said AWEA does not have plans to go to Congress and ask for a tax credit extension after 2019, with a caveat.

“We are calling for a level playing field and as you know, other sources of electricity have had long term and in many cases permanent tax credits,” Kiernan said. “We’re hoping that … Congress will look, as we’re phasing down ours, look at everybody else’s public support and phase them down or somehow levelize it.”

On another front, some conservationists have criticized wind farms for the number of birds killed after they hit rotor blades attached to the burgeoning number of turbines being built across the country.

The American Bird Conservancy website estimates that more than 1.4 million bird deaths are projected by 2030.

In the San Diego area, an environmental group called the Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC) has opposed the construction of the Tule Wind Project in East County, arguing the site poses a danger to the area’s golden eagle habitat.

“We have always said we are in favor of alternative energy sources,” said April Rose Sommer, executive director at POC, “but this is the wrong project in the wrong place.”

AWEA says greater numbers of eagles are killed by power lines, vehicle strikes and illegal shooting, The group says newer turbines — that are better sited, with rotors that move more slowly — have lowered eagle deaths by 80 percent.