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Nothing more than a sideshow

Wind began well at the most recent version of the power industry's largest annual show, known as PowerGen, which happens each December in Las Vegas. Jim Gordon of Energy Management Inc, the company behind the controversial offshore wind project proposed for Cape Cod, gave a keynote address that countered the lobbying from the two other keynote -- Andrew White, president of GE Energy's nuclear division and Michael Niggli, president of Sempra Generation, a gas-fired proponent.

"I'm a recovering New England gas-fired developer and I've been fossil-free for five years," quipped Gordon. "Four point nine million was spent last year to thwart this project yet the American Lung Association says the Cape has the worst air quality in Massachusetts."

After Gordon's spirited address, however, disappointment became the order of the day. Whereas at the 2004 event Siemens heralded wind by holding the show's largest press conference (on its acquisition of Bonus) and spinning model windmills were prominently displayed around its booth, this year wind became largely invisible. GE, too, downsized wind, from a large nacelle as well as a rotor from its 1.5 MW turbine a year ago, to a large trampoline for visitors to bounce on. At PowerGen 2005 it was left to the American Wind Energy Association and Vestas to represent wind in a tiny "renewable pavilion."

Even the conference sessions mirrored the change in emphasis. At PowerGen 2004, wind kept popping up unexpectedly in the midst of mainstream debates and panels as the answer to current energy woes. This time, however, few sessions gave it a mention and nobody trumpeted the fact that wind just had its best year ever in terms of new capacity in America.

"We do seem to have a smaller wind presence than previous years," says Brian Schimmoller, editor of Power Engineering Magazine and organiser of the show. "That may be due to the fact that we are placing more emphasis on this April's PowerGen Renewables Conference." That event, though, is a shadow of the real thing. A few hundred attend and support a couple of dozen booths, compared to 16,000 at the mainstream PowerGen and its 1500 booths.

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