United States

United States

SCHMOOZING IN THE HALLS OF POWER

American wind industry troops stormed the US Capitol for two full afternoons of lobbying after being coached in the art of political persuasion by officials of their trade association and by Marty Kanner, a former employee of the American Public Power Association and now a private consultant.

"You must tell one story," Michael Marvin, director of governmental and public affairs at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) told developers. Though a number of conference participants shied away from the hand-shaking and grovelling that rivals baseball as America's most popular pastime, droves of wind power enthusiasts met with over two hundred different senators and congressman.

Did they have any effect? According to Marvin, the answer is a resounding yes. "The timing couldn't have been better," he said. That same week, Senator Jim Jeffords, a Republican from Vermont, sold the Senate leadership on scaling back a proposed $35 million cut in renewables funding to a $25 million cut.

While this small success was savoured by Marvin, the impact of the wind lobby did not stop Senator Don Nichols from introducing "The Electric Utility Ratepayer Act." Although a benign sounding title, it refers to a measure which would abolish the Public Utilities Reform Policies Act (PURPA), on which much of the renewables market is based, as of last month. The act is being pushed by 11 utilities which call themselves the PURPA Reform Group: Allegheny Power System, Boston Edison, Central Maine Power, Consolidated Edison, General Public Utilities Corporation, New York State Electric & Gas Corporation, Niagara Mohawk Power, Northeast Utilities, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Pennsylvania Power & Light and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Marvin observed that it is hard to get the attention of many of the new freshman Republicans in Congress since wind power is not one of the ten issues included in the radical "Contract For America" agenda being pushed by these so-called revolutionaries. Some AWEA members, nevertheless, were impressed with what they saw among veterans.

Michael Jacobs, sales manager for Second Wind, noted that he bumped into Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in the hallway. "He said that Massachusetts was the right place for wind power because southwest winds blow off of Cape Cod," reminisced Jacobs. Kennedy told him and his cohorts that the problem there was storage. "The wind blows in the winter but the people are there in summer," said Kennedy. "I was impressed that he knew the issues," said Jacobs.

Although others were not quite as astute, with most legislators seeming to get lost in the arguments for PURPA, the one message that did resonate was state versus federal government conflicts. In the current political climate, the message of each state's rights to develop energy policies to meet their own unique needs is one that apparently sells in Washington DC.

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