Wind power industry is urged to become more aggressive in competing with fossil fuels

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CHICAGO — Coming off one of the most tumultuous years in its recent history, the U.S. wind power industry has emerged stronger and more confident of its future, industry leaders gathered here for the American Wind Energy Association’s national conference said yesterday.

But for wind power to solidify its standing in a highly competitive energy market, it must shift its focus from federal tax policies to seek a broader agenda that plays to wind energy’s inherent strengths while fighting back against those who argue that wind cannot compete with fossil fuels for electricity generation.

Citing the industry’s robust growth, with wind turbines accounting for 42 percent of all new generation added to the U.S. grid in 2012, AWEA’s new board chairman, Gabriel Alonso, said wind energy developers, manufacturers and consumers have proved that the renewable energy resource is here to stay.

“That’s good news, but it’s just another chapter in a story we keep writing every day,” said Alonso, CEO of Houston-based EDP Renewables North America. Future chapters will have to place the industry on a clearer path to economic security, one that does not rely on the on-again, off-again cycle of federal tax policies that have sustained the industry for decades.

Even if total wind power installations dropped marginally from last year’s record 13,000 megawatts, Alonso predicted, the industry could remain “vibrant and sustainable.” But the boom-and-bust cycle associated with a strong reliance on government incentives “does not make for a sustainable industry.”

Alonso called on the wind power industry’s 1,200 members to commit to more aggressive campaigning on behalf of wind energy and to powerfully convey the industry’s positive message in Washington, D.C., as well as in statehouses and town council chambers across the country. “You have a message that matters,” he said.

Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s incoming president and CEO, said of the industry’s challenges: “The country needs us to succeed. The natural world needs us to succeed. And frankly, my children and your children need us to succeed.”

Borrowing a page from environmentalists

To that end, some wind power advocates argued that the industry should borrow a page from the environmental movement by challenging renewable energy naysayers head on and ratcheting up its rhetoric on wind energy’s environmental benefits relative to fossil fuels rather than seeking to peacefully coexist alongside the oil, coal and gas sectors.

Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation and one of several high-profile environmental leaders addressing the Chicago conference, told AWEA members that they represent “an insurgent industry” that is “taking on an incumbent industry that plays hardball.”

“I would urge you all to become more aggressive,” he added, “because if you don’t be more creative, more aggressive, more willing to take risks, this industry will move along at a pace that will not solve our problems.”

While praising AWEA’s work to promote and expand clean energy, David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, criticized the industry generally for being “timid” in its approach to broader environmental issues such as wildlife conservation and climate change. “Your commitment to climate change can’t be as cyclical as your commitment has been to the PTC,” he told an afternoon gathering.

Rob Gramlich, AWEA’s interim president and head of its public policy efforts, stressed that wind developers have long collaborated with environmental groups to advance low-carbon energy and that the industry has paid stronger attention to wildlife issues in recent years, including through the establishment of the American Wind Wildlife Institute.

He also agreed with Yarnold that the industry needs to work more closely with advocacy groups like Audubon and NWF to help establish reliable science around issues of wind power and wildlife protection and habitat conservation.

DOE to update ‘20% by 2030’ goal

The Department of Energy, meanwhile, announced that it would update its 2008 technical report that expressed a goal of achieving a national wind energy portfolio of 20 percent by 2030.

Jose Zayas, program manager of DOE’s Wind and Water Power Technologies office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said the department launched a new Web portal yesterday to solicit input on developing a “new wind vision” with specific development targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050.

Among other things, the new document will attempt to answer questions such as, “What does that future look like?” and “How do we account for the changes that have happened over the last several years” in terms of technology improvements, supply-chain efficiencies and greater scaling of wind farms.

“These things were not well-represented in the original report, but they have a significant impact in terms of the future, and we must consider those changes,” he said.

Zayas reiterated the Obama administration’s “aggressive agenda” to promote renewable energy both as a pathway to a low-carbon economy and as a significant job creator in the decades to come.

“As most of you will attest, wind has done its part,” he said.