The industry must fight the perception that wind energy cannot compete with fossil fuels
Coming off one of the most tumultuous years in its recent history, the U.S. wind power industry has emerged stronger and more confident of its future, industry leaders gathered here for the American Wind Energy Association‘s national conference said yesterday.
But for wind power to solidify its standing in a highly competitive energy market, it must shift its focus from federal tax policies to seek a broader agenda that plays to wind energy’s inherent strengths while fighting back against those who argue that wind cannot compete with fossil fuels for electricity generation.
Citing the industry’s robust growth, with wind turbines accounting for 42 percent of all new generation added to the U.S. grid in 2012, AWEA’s new board chairman, Gabriel Alonso, said wind energy developers, manufacturers and consumers have proved that the renewable energy resource is here to stay.
“That’s good news, but it’s just another chapter in a story we keep writing every day,” said Alonso, CEO of Houston-based EDP Renewables North America. Future chapters will have to place the industry on a clearer path to economic security, one that does not rely on the on-again, off-again cycle of federal tax policies that have sustained the industry for decades.
Even if total wind power installations dropped marginally from last year’s record 13,000 megawatts, Alonso predicted, the industry could remain “vibrant and sustainable.” But the boom-and-bust cycle associated with a strong reliance on government incentives “does not make for a sustainable industry.”
Alonso called on the wind power industry’s 1,200 members to commit to more aggressive campaigning on behalf of wind energy and to powerfully convey the industry’s positive message in Washington, D.C., as well as in statehouses and town council chambers across the country. “You have a message that matters,” he said.
Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s incoming president and CEO, said of the industry’s challenges: “The country needs us to succeed. The natural world needs us to succeed. And frankly, my children and your children need us to succeed.”
Borrowing a page from environmentalists
To that end, some wind power advocates argued that the industry should borrow a page from the environmental movement by challenging renewable energy naysayers head on and ratcheting up its rhetoric on wind energy’s environmental benefits relative to fossil fuels rather than seeking to peacefully coexist alongside the oil, coal and gas sectors.
Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation and one of several high-profile environmental leaders addressing the Chicago conference, told AWEA members that they represent “an insurgent industry” that is “taking on an incumbent industry that plays hardball.”
“I would urge you all to become more aggressive,” he added, “because if you don’t be more creative, more aggressive, more willing to take risks, this industry will move along at a pace that will not solve our problems.”
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