Facing prejudice head on

The foothold gained by renewables at the 17th WEC Congress was a triumph for Russel Smith, leader of the Texas Renewables Energy Industries Association (TREIA) and the man behind the organised appearance of clean energy at the event. It was the first time that renewables were highlighted at a WEC Congress and Smith is convinced the effort will have softened anti-renewables attitudes in the conventional energy sector.

The renewables pavilion, at 7000 square feet of exhibition space, was larger than anyone anticipated or even hoped for, he notes. When he had first approached the exhibit organisers, the original allotment of space was 5000 square feet and they were sceptical even that could be filled. He says too that individual companies made business contacts, while many WEC delegates and other energy officials at the exhibition were exposed to renewables like never before.

Smith, a wry Texan who leads TREIA, became aware that WEC was proposing a theme that included the word "sustainable" about 18 months ago. When he contacted the US Energy Association in Washington DC, the US member of WEC, it said the aim was to incorporate all of the energy industry, even renewables. Smith pinned them down on some specifics. For the next year he then worked on convincing both the energy industry and the various US trade groups for renewables that they should be on the same floor together. Some in the renewables industry refused to participate.

The two wind turbine nacelles at the exhibition provided the needed high profile. "Folks who had never seen one up close, who would have been up against their own prejudices, the prejudices of their colleagues.. they would have enough of an engineer's curiosity, a slight curiosity, and they could slide by and take a look, and before you knew it they'd be peering into it," he says. "We'd overhear guys, walking away, saying things like, Wow that was pretty interesting. I didn't realise they are so large."

The theme of the congress -- rather than the exhibit -- had been long established and the fact that renewables were not completely ignored, he says, was a tremendous achievement. Nuclear and renewables were inevitably lumped into the same category, he says, since nuclear power wants to try and portray itself as emission free and clean. "That was much of the tension of what was happening at the congress," he says.

It was also not just the number of people attending, but their power and influence. "I can promise you this, a larger percentage of delegates from the third floor went through the renewables pavilion than through the rest of the exhibit. We were the only part that was set aside," he says. Smith notes too that promotional material on the "Industry Days" workshops was sent to people not normally in contact with renewables . Smith is sure that such an effort would be justified at the next WEC Congress, in three years' time in Buenos Aires. "The event showed we can be part of the energy industry and compete with them. We went farther than almost anyone thought possible in achieving our objectives," he says. "Renewable energy is not going to be big time until we are part of the energy community."