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United States

Your customers

It is now time to take a look around and see where the next markets are going to be for the wind industry. First, get to know your customers, the politicians. Second, hone your sales pitch. What sells in the windy states is jobs, which is what you want to create. And be prepared to educate. You'll have to start with the basics. The level of ignorance about wind is astounding.

Times are good. The wind industry is big business--a global operation with annual sales of over $2 billion. The last year saw 2600 MW of new turbines planted worldwide. In the United States we have more than 800 MW under construction. The great American wind rush of '99 will be remembered for years to come. Folks in the wind industry have had their heads down, rushing to fill orders before America's Production Tax Credit expires this month. It is now time, however, to take a look around and see where the next markets are going to be. And while you are at it, ask yourself, who are your customers? With markets opening up in Europe and North America, wind developers can get direct access to The People, many of whom want to see a cleaner planet for their children. But let's not forget the old middlemen, who still wield the clout. Virtually all of the wind development in the US Midwest right now is due to politics, not markets. The big ones-Lake Benton, Storm Lake, Clear Lake-are the direct result of political mandates, put in place over the objections of the local utilities.

Future markets in the US are being created in places where you've probably never been or have even heard of: Lincoln, Nebraska. Columbus, Ohio. Pierre and Bismarck. If 25 senators vote for and one governor signs a bill pending in the Nebraska legislature, a billion dollar market for wind could be created in that state over the next decade. A similar quantity is on the table in Iowa (pages 35-37). A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon you're talking real money.

Meantime back at policy central in Washington there is indeed plenty at stake. There's the fight to get the Production Tax Credit reinstated and there's the Clinton administration's renewables portfolio standard (RPS) of 7.5% by 2010, and the Kyoto accord. They could all have a huge impact on the future of the wind industry. But Washington isn't the only battlefield. There are important skirmishes going on in 50 state capitols across the country. And wind power's biggest gains are being made there, not in Washington.

The wind lobby finally took notice of one of the larger fights, in Texas, a state with more carbon emissions than the UK or Canada. Working hand in glove with environmental activists there, they succeeded in getting a 2000 MW share of the market over the next decade, in the heart of oil and gas country-or at least it looked like they would succeed late last month. And now another state campaign has been set in motion by the American Wind Energy Association, which has announced a new lobbying group, Wind Power New York, to push for an RPS there. Environmentalists need help from the industry. In many of these states, air quality is not an issue, and global warming is considered a communist plot. But every legislator speaks the language of money. Jobs, jobs, jobs. The men and women of the wind industry speak that language too, and can get the attention of some legislators more effectively than the purest greenie.

The market rules are being rewritten now, not in Washington but one state at a time. For the wind industry to wait around for a federal RPS is unduly optimistic. Putting your faith entirely in green marketing is wilfully wishful. Hoping your enviro pals will deliver a market for you is foolhardy. It's time to get out your atlas and find Pierre. It's time to get involved.

The Politicians

First, get to know your customers, the politicians. In the minds of some right wing politicians, business people have a credibility that advocates may lack. The motivations of business people masquerading as lobbyists are clear and understandable-they want to make money, a noble American virtue. Politicians often find enviros to be uninvited busybodies with some mysterious agenda. Probably an anti-business agenda. Second, hone your sales pitch. What sells in the windy states is jobs, which is what you want to create. Rural governments in the declining American farm economy are keenly interested in tax revenues from wind projects to prop up what is left of their school systems. And when you are thinking about where to build that new manufacturing plant in America, think about the political implications. Consider that plant a reward for your best customers-the politicians. And make sure they know it.

And be prepared to educate. You'll have to start with the basics. The level of ignorance about wind is astounding. A typical comment comes from a retired engineer in Colorado at a city council debate on wind. "I don't think we should waste resources on a technology that is so intermittent and nebulous," he said about wind. "I hate to see people waste money." What's more, turbines can chop up birds, destroy a ridge line and produce flashing glare and offensive noise, he informed the meeting. Sure, there's no one more dogmatically ignorant than a retired engineer. But those of us who have dealt with politicians have encountered worse. I advise bringing hand puppets.

Someday, in a perfect world, the social cost of pollution will be taken into account and wind will be given its due as a sustainable resource. Or, the cost of wind turbines will keep falling until wind power is too cheap to meter. Then wind will compete in the marketplace. Until then, don't ignore those middlemen customers at this critical moment. Make sure they remember you when bill-writing time comes around.

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