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Moving forward in US, back in Germany

As the COP21 UN climate summit in December gets ever closer, one more step has been taken towards a renewables-heavy future, with the announcement of President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan for the US.

If it passes through to law, forcing US states to reduce emissions from power plants, the wind industry can expect to see greater, steady growth, as can other renewable industries. But it is by no means a done deal.

The US is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gas - after China, which submitted its own climate plan in July to source 20% of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030. With one third of US CO2 emissions coming from its power plants, the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Obama's plan has been hailed as courageous, a big change for a country that has never before set a limit on power-station emissions. Prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency and backed up by a "sound legal and technical foundation", it is still ambitious in some eyes, even though - in the hope that it will survive - the EPA was aiming for something that is reasonable and practical. Within ten days of the announcement, 15 states had filed petitions against the EPA.

But 15 others backed the plan, recognising the climate need, or perhaps more simply recognising the other advantages highlighted by Obama - that adopting clean power will strengthen the US economy and national security and create jobs. Meanwhile, the plan is at least a positive signal to encourage those who will be attending COP21 in Paris.

Last month Germany's enthusiasm for wind power was rewarded with the promise of 1,000 new jobs and a EUR200 million investment when Siemens announced a new factory in Cuxhaven to produce offshore turbines. Germany's notable success so far with wind-energy development, including a substantial manufacturing base, has been attributed in no small part to the acceptance of wind energy by its citizens, who have been able to buy into many of their local, small onshore wind projects and reap the benefits for themselves.

Tables turning

So it is alarming to hear that the government's new EU-encouraged plans for competitive auctions for wind projects are likely to push out small players - and so reduce public acceptance. State leaders are petitioning the federal government to amend the new system to give local people a fighting chance to buy into projects.

Different countries, different issues, and the tables seem to have turned. The US president, against the will of many of the state representatives - and one might therefore presume its citizens - is trying to push through renewables-heavy legislation, while the German federal government, basking in the reflected glory and economic wealth from public enthusiasm for wind, is pushing through legislation that could end all that.

But the global energy transformation goes on, aided by climate concerns of governments as well as local communities benefiting from the inherently local nature of renewable energy.While wind-energy growth in the US has greater chance where the profit potential can be seen, it will be its local fit with the pressing need for electricity that will push wind-energy growth in developing countries.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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