WINDPOWER: The push for new federal energy policy

Most discussion at the show focused on the need for a federal Renewable Electricity Standard that would require 25 percent of U.S. electricity come from renewable resources by 2025.

CompositesWorld spent a couple of days at the WINDPOWER 2009 show (May 4-6, 2008). Following is a report on discussions at the show regarding federal energy policy.

Most of the discussion at the show centered on the need for a long-term federal energy plan that provides a stable environment for development and implementation of renewable energy systems. The policy proposed and discussed at the show, called the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), stipulates an increase of electricity from renewable resources to 25 percent of total U.S. requirement by 2025. Most estimates show that this would require 300,000 MW of energy annually from renewables. This is an ambitious goal given that only about 2.4 percent of current U.S. electricity comes from renewable resources.

This was the focus of panel discussion on the second day of the show, featuring General Wesley Clark (ret.), director of Emergya Wind Technologies BV; Vic Abate, vice president for Renewables at GE Energy; Ditlev Engel, president and CEO of Vestas Wind Systems AS; Declan Flanagan, CEO of E.On Climate & Renewables N.A. Inc.; and Michael Polsky, CEO of Invenergy LLC.

Clark noted that the wind industry, which relies on credit to develop wind farms, needs multi-year stability for credit markets to provide sustainable growth. He also repeated an often-heard request that the federal government develop policy to begin a massive upgrade of the national electricity grid to allow wind energy from the Midwest reach population centers. The free market, he said, cannot supply the long-term stability the wind industry needs.

Engel, of Vestas, noted the virtues of American wind in the Midwest and characterized it as too good to ignore: "It’s like going to Saudi Arabia and not drilling for oil,” he said. Indeed, Vestas is not ignoring it, but that a RES would provide a strong incentive. GE’s Abate agreed on the need for an expanded and improved transmission, but also warned that “we can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” emphasizing the importance of incremental improvement in wind energy development environment. He also noted that right now GE makes 13 turbines a day — that would have to increase to one turbine every 15 minutes to meet the 25 by 25 goal.
Invenergy’s Polsky said, “300,000 MW is very doable. The beauty of renewables is that you only need capital, not fuel.” Clark finished the panel discussion with a reality check: “The last word is a dirty word: Politics.” Good ideas, he said, are not enough. If the popular voice is heard in Washington, D.C., he said, “we will have 25 percent by 2025.”

One of the main attractions at the show was oil magnate T. Boone Pickins, whose recent advocacy of wind energy has given the wind industry a much-appreciated shot in the arm. Pickins started his talk with a review of current U.S. oil supply, which he characterized as dangerous and unsustainable: He reported that 60 percent of U.S. oil is imported, and 70 percent of the world’s oil is controlled by state-owned enterprises. By 2019, said Pickins, if the current trend continues, 75 percent of U.S. oil will be imported, with 65 percent of that coming from countries unfriendly to America.

With these data in mind, Pickins has begun a crusade to help the U.S. develop sustainable, domestic energy sources — most notably wind and natural gas. His goal right now, he said, is to generate loud, popular support for the RES. “It’s real hard to come up against my plan,” he said. “My response is, ‘What’s your plan?’” The alternative, he said, is continued dependence on foreign oil, “and that is a loser.” He encouraged, like the panel before him, that folks contact their representatives in the U.S. Congress: “I can tell you that if I have millions of people with me, then I’m a hell of a lot more effective than just a rich guy in D.C.” He finished optimistically, noting the myriad economic benefits the wind industry can bring to rural America — and the U.S. as a whole: “When we go green, it will be the best economy we’ve ever had.”