United States

United States

Clinton policy push sets 80,000 MW wind goal

The US Energy secretary announced in June a goal of producing 5% of America's electricity from wind power by 2020, estimated to require 80,000 MW of capacity. According to the draft action plan, Wind Powering America, the federal government is aiming to get 5% of its electricity from wind by 2010. The plan also calls for the number of states with more than 20 MW of wind capacity to be doubled to 16 by 2005, and to be tripled to 24 by 2010. Some groups are sceptical of the plan.

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Wind power is getting an unprecedented boost from the US government. Energy secretary Bill Richardson announced on June 21 a plan to change America's energy future-with a goal of producing 5% of the country's electricity from wind power by 2020, estimated to require 80,000 MW of capacity. The timeline means more than 5000 MW on-line by 2005, double America's current total wind capacity, and 10,000-plus MW on-line by 2010, four times current US capacity and the same as today's worldwide capacity. The White House's draft action plan, Wind Powering America, was announced at the American Wind Energy Association's Windpower '99 conference in Burlington, Vermont.

According to the plan, the federal government-the country's largest energy consumer-is aiming to get 5% of its electricity from wind by 2010. The plan also calls for the number of states with more than 20 MW of wind capacity to be doubled to 16 by 2005, and to be tripled to 24 by 2010.

Four regions are being targeted, The Great Plains and Upper Midwest, the Southwest-Texas and New Mexico-the Northeast, and the Northwest, Richardson told a delighted audience at the conference's opening session. "We are doing something important. We are saying that wind power is important," he said. "This is one of those meetings when we will say in 2010, I was there. It's a day when we are changing the energy future of this country." In a theme that would be hammered home at the conference, he called on listeners to become politically active to make the strategy work, and to lobby their politicians for renewables-friendly legislation in Washington.


Public education will be ramped up to increase consumer demand and environmental awareness and to communicate wind's successes, while research and development will be boosted to promote technological maturity and increase America's international competitiveness. Policies such as a Production Tax Credit (PTC) and federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) will continue to be backed, while institutional barriers to wind's progress will be lowered. Federal agencies will also co-operate to ensure wind is used more widely, for example in areas such as rural development and health and for Native Americans.

The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the plan will add $60 billion in capital investment in the US in the next 20 years, and that annual investment in wind will increase to $8 billion by 2020, up from the estimated $1 billion record during the past 12 months of the PTC rush (Windpower Monthly, June 1999). An estimated $1.2 billion in new income will go to farmers, Native Americans and landowners and, by 2020, some 80,000 new permanent jobs will have been created. In addition the draft plan, which will be refined over the summer, will mean that 35 million tons of atmospheric carbon will be displaced in 2020.

Responsible for the plan's details is Dan Reicher, DOE Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. Wind is the all-American resource, he said. The strategy is aimed at "filling in the map for wind, moving into [new] parts of America and making it happen." He noted that the federal government's goal of 5% of its consumption by 2010 alone would mean an additional 1000 MW of wind plants. Reicher referred to the PTC as "absolutely essential," though its reintroduction will take a deal of lobbying. Supporting the use of small turbines, under 50 kW, is also crucial. "The time is right for Wind Powering America," he concluded, because the technology is ready, the electricity industry is restructuring, the nation's ailing rural economy needs development, and because of the "sleeping giant" of climate change.

Clinton mandate

The announcement, the most dramatic at federal level in modern times, supports President Bill Clinton's Executive Order on June 3 encouraging federal agencies to buy renewable electricity and to conserve power. The order mandates agencies to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2010, and to cut electricity consumption by 35%, compared with 1985 levels, by 2010. It also urges them to make investments in renewables, such as wind, and allocates $1.5 million in DOE funding for 26 small renewable projects at government facilities around the country.

In a sign of things to come, within days the Environmental Protection Agency said that its laboratory in Richmond, near San Francisco, would use 100% green power supplied by Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The utility's "Greenergy" is generated by geothermal and landfill gas. The action plan also fits with the White House's recent proposal for electricity deregulation, which includes a 7.5% federal RPS by 2010 (Windpower Monthly, April and May 1999).


Reaction to the announcement was swift. The Sustainable Energy Coalition, of which AWEA is a member, noted that 10,000 MW of capacity on-line by 2010 is still considerably less than 1% of America's electricity production and a far cry from the 10% RPS supported by AWEA and contained in the deregulation proposal of one of Vermont's own US Senators, Jim Jeffords.

Less than enthusiastic was Denis Hayes, organiser of Earth Day 2000 and a leading US environmentalist. "It's about as much as you can get politically now-and we're about changing that political context," he said, referring to lobbying efforts in support of renewables. The draft plan, added Hayes, would have been good eight years ago, when Clinton was new in office-and not about to leave it. If the next president, however, is current Vice President Al Gore, who describes himself as an environmentalist, Hayes assured: "We'll hold him to it."

More positive was a Texan newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. "Americans should welcome the long overdue game plan and encourage the federal government to aggressively pursue solar energy. America's energy needs mirror those of other industrialised nations. The first one to develop affordable solar and wind energy will reap the rewards. America should lead the race to develop sustainable energy and associated technology."

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