United States

United States

Shifting the focus to the long term

"We are the leading solution to climate change, and we save consumers money." This message CEO Tom Kiernan delivered at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference in May was unambiguously positive, backed up by a rising tide of public endorsement of wind power.

The Las Vegas event may have been smaller than last year's in Chicago and 2012's in Atlanta, but the atmosphere was much more upbeat and enthusiastic. Two years ago on my visit to Atlanta, the immigration officer informed me dismally that it was too late for green jobs after hearing the purpose of my trip. This year the topic of wind power was met with positive comments and references to its waterand other resource-efficient qualities, clearly a pressing concern for a city that dazzles the otherwise dark desert skies with its nightly electricity consumption.

Kiernan, marking the completion of his first year in office, outlined a long-term strategy for US wind power, a shift away from the annual wrangling over production tax credits (PTC). While not throwing away the PTC request - it has after all created the current mini-boom - the industry must focus much further ahead, and put the fight against climate change top of the agenda. Susan Reilly, CEO of RES Americas and new AWEA chair, echoed the sentiment, telling conference delegates that wind energy is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon in an energy portfolio.

There are some promising signs. American utilities and power companies are diversifying their portfolios with a greater share for renewable projects, a trend that has also been noted in Europe. While ten years ago US utilities were merely keeping an eye on carbon pricing, now they are factoring it into their business projections, said Gabriel Alonso, CEO of EDP Renewables North America. Influential hi-tech firms such as Microsoft are monitoring their carbon footprints and taking steps to reduce them, with wind power often playing a significant role.

Endorsement

Even the US government is looking to a longer-term future and a serious commitment to carbon reduction. The Department of Energy (DOE) helpfully released a vision that wind power can realistically produce 10% of US electricity by 2020 (the current figure is just over 4%), 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. That huge expansion, if realised, need not come at a high cost to consumers. DOE predictions see a marginal increase in bills for users until 2030, from which point prices will fall.

This vision involves offshore wind energy, and includes projections for cost reductions in that technology on a scale similar to that which has been achieved onshore.

Kiernan clearly recognises that AWEA has to do more than lobby policymakers for tax concessions in support of wind energy. It has to win the argument for wind power's place in a low-carbon energy-generation future among the general public. After all, they elect the politicians.

Only last year Steve Sawyer, CEO of the Global Wind Energy Council, was lamenting that his American homeland has a reputation for doing the right thing - but only after it has tried all the other ways. Now in its 40th year, has AWEA got the muscle to push the US into leading a major carbon reduction strategy? The wind industry needs to be ready to play its part in providing the solution.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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