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United States

Support for grass roots ownership

The movement for local ownership of local wind projects in the United States is getting its own community wind working group under the auspices of the American Wind Energy Association. The AWEA board's initiative is a "big step" towards advancing a community wind agenda, says Lisa Daniels of Windustry, a community wind advocacy group in Minnesota. A year ago Windustry complained it was being pushed out of the mainstream wind industry.

AWEA has also supported a first community wind seminar this year, at which its president elect, Jim Walker, suggested a goal for locally owned wind power to make up 20% of the bigger national target for 20% wind electricity by 2030, reports Daniels. In that way community wind projects would supply 4% of America's electricity. Walker is from leading wind project developer Enxco.

AWEA's support has reenergised community wind advocates. "Now we will be putting together an action agenda of items we want to accomplish," says Daniels. Central to this agenda is forming a policy that is "a little more diverse" than the industry's reliance on wind's federal production tax credit (PTC), which Daniels claims does little for community wind.

The movement's favoured alternative, dubbed "feed-in-tariffs" (FITs) in a direct translation from the German name for its wind power law, is for legislators to order the purchase of wind power at fixed premium prices. The model has been used at national level in Germany for the past decade. Daniels says FITs are gaining grass roots support. Variations of fixed purchase price laws have been introduced in Minnesota, Michigan, Rhode Island and Vermont, while California recently approved a very limited and restrictive FIT law. In June, Washington state representative Jay Inslee and three co-sponsors proposed a FIT law for renewable energy projects up to 20 MW in size.

The fixed price approach is not popular with the commercial wind industry, which doubts legislators can set prices at the right level for periods of up to 20 years. Daniels says lawmakers should create a price setting mechanism that can be revised periodically in line with market conditions.

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