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Searching for a silver lining -- Wind and the new administration

What the new Bush administration will mean for wind in the next four years is far from clear. Environmentalists are highly sceptical of the likely energy policies of the new administration, in large part because President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are both conservative former oil men who will almost certainly deal with green issues in a fashion that is friendly to big business. Further, the new secretary of energy, Spencer Abraham, is not an energy expert.

Whatever the policies of the Bush administration, one thing is sure: energy will not be the forgotten issue it so often has been in the United States. What this will mean for wind in the next four years, however, is far from clear. Environmentalists are highly sceptical of the likely energy policies of the new administration, in large part because President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who took office on January 20, are both conservative former oil men who will almost certainly deal with green issues in a fashion that is friendly to big business.

The new secretary of energy, Spencer Abraham, already confirmed by the senate, is not an energy expert. He is taking the reins of power during the California electricity crisis and at a time when major changes in federal energy regulation seem likely. Indeed, the former Republican senator has been known in energy circles only for trying to abolish the tax on petrol last summer when prices at the pump were at record highs -- he is from the car making state of Michigan -- and for once co-sponsoring a bill to abolish the US Department of Energy, which would have meant the end of wind's R&D budget too.

"We were frankly disappointed that Bush did not choose someone with greater energy experience," says Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association. "I just don't think this is a good time for on-the-job training." America's growing shortfall of electricity and its inadequate transmission network are two of the most pressing energy issues.

Swisher cautions that he is not criticising Abraham's abilities but his inexperience. On the other hand, "There's a lot of talk about energy as a priority, which is long overdue," he says. "And I think there's going to be room for us."

Bush RPS

Texas is currently the hottest area for US wind development thanks to its implementation of legislation for a successful Renewables Portfolio Standard, signed into law by Bush. Although he was not the architect of the state's deregulation, he did not mount an opposition. Moreover, he vehemently wants to stabilise the nation's energy supply, albeit in part with the controversial opening up of part of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil drilling.

"We understand our national security depends upon energy security," said Bush after nominating Abraham, an Arab-American, on January 2. "We must meet rising demand for energy with new domestic exploration and production. We must produce and conserve all forms of energy in America, and we must do so in an economically sound and environmentally sensitive way."

As a candidate, Bush did endorse wind power's federal Production Tax Credit (PTC). But an extension of the credit, beyond the end of this year, will depend upon how much work gets done by the new US Congress, closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. In addition, the PTC is hardly a high profile issue, even if it has had Bush's backing and even with Bush making tax legislation a priority.

A stretch or not, global warming issues will be a hard sell to Bush, who opposes the Kyoto protocol and who is sceptical of the existence of global warming. "It concerns me," acknowledges Swisher. Under Bush the issue will not be so highly politicised -- and the administration may be able to craft some sort of position on global warming without being branded extremist, adds Swisher, always the lobbyist and already looking for ways to work with the new administration.

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