Question of the week: Who really controls the wind industry?

This week Windpower Monthly asks Tom Kiernan of AWEA, Peter Dickson of Glennmont Partners and Mark Konold of Worldwatch Institute who - manufacturers, financiers, politicians, the public - hold the most power over the future of the wind industry.

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Question: Who holds the power over the wind industry?

Peter Dickson - technical director Glenmont Partners

There are many players in the wind industry: regulators, manufacturers, developers, investors, lenders, so it is interesting to understand who holds the controlling stake - where does power lie?

To begin with power lay with the engineers and technologists who stepped up with solutions to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Western  governments, desperate for a solution to the energy squeeze, turned to new forms of energy to fuel their economies. As the industry developed into a climate change mitigation strategy, supported by aggressive growth targets and long-term stable tariffs, power shifted according to where the bottlenecks existed in the industry – to manufacturers, developers or to financiers.

When the financial crisis occurred in 2007 at first wind power became a safe haven for investors, attracted by growth targets and long term feed in tariffs, but then as incomes reduced in real terms and the cost of living became a political issue, the cost of the incentive schemes came under some pressure. Across Europe a debate is under way about the value of wind power and the cost of its installation. In a number of elections in coming years, regulation for renewable energy is playing a significant part in manifestos as politicians present their various stances on wind power.

So the power in the wind sector lies with those who can control its future, the voters. The industry needs a revised mandate from the public to continue to invest in technology, in projects and in infrastructure. It is the responsibility of the industry, of academics, politicians and the media to present full and balanced information on the need for alternative power so that power can be exercised from an informed and unbiased perspective.

Tom Kiernan - CEO AWEA

Our power starts with up to 85,000 American workers at wind farms and factories in every state of the union. Our take-action website has 340,000 supporters who tell Congress and state legislatures that real jobs in their communities are at stake. The appeal of wind energy is seen in decisions by governors, utilities and state regulators to lock in predictable low rates and pollution-free power.

Our power reaches the boardrooms of the major businesses building and investing in more wind capacity, locking in low rates and fulfilling commitments to sustainability. Investment of $15 billion a year in new wind farms across America, and resulting leases with landowners, has led to bipartisan support; that is another major advantage in getting the stable policies we'll need to double American wind power by 2020, then double again by 2030, as both recent Republican and Democratic administrations have projected.

That will take extending the production tax credit in the Expire Act, and keeping state renewable standards strong. Wind energy isn't red or blue, it's red, white, and blue. Policymakers at all levels need to understand that, and we need to use the power of our voices to make sure they do.

Mark Konold - Climate and Energy project manager Worldwatch Institute

The power in the wind industry starts with a government's clear signal that it intends to make wind power a large part of its energy matrix. Countries such as China, India, Germany and the UK are clearing the way for wind power to flourish by committing to bold, forward-looking targets and policies. This reduces some of the uncertainty that can keep developers, manufacturers and financiers from advancing projects in the market. It is a large part of why offshore wind projects are developing at such a rapid pace.

Contrast that with the United States where a support mechanism like the Productions Tax Credit (PTC) is in constant need of renewal. When the PTC is in place, applications for new projects are constant. When the PTC is in danger of expiration, applications surge and when it expires, they trail off. This pattern played out over the last three years: wind power growth rates went from 14 percent to 16 to 28 and then down to 1.8.

When the right signals are in place, it starts an upward cycle. Developers move into the space, which encourages manufacturers to produce more cutting-edge technology, which inspires future projects that lead to more robust growth in the industry. As this happens, the market becomes more price-competitive with a fossil fuel industry that, though thoroughly mature, still benefits from similar subsidies and assistance. But it all starts with a government's clear sign that it is ready to take advantage of the social, financial, and environmental benefits that wind power provides.

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