American Wind Energy Association Annual Meeting

by Phil DeVita

Steve Barrett and I just returned from the three day American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference held in Dallas, Texas.  This was my fourth AWEA conference and each year I am amazed by the magnitude of the event with 20,000 attendees and a record 1400 exhibitors! The exhibitors range from developers, consultants, transportation, and turbine manufactures right down to the nuts and bolts of the industry (literally!).   It is truly amazing to see the diverse industry required to support wind energy.

Background

For background, the U.S. is the world leader in wind energy generation with 35,000 MW installed to date.  China is a close second, and will probably pass the U.S. this year in total wind capacity.  For perspective, in 2009 the U.S. installed over 10,000 MW of wind capacity which is equivalent to powering about 2.4 million homes.  The U.S. has been an industry leader, however, initial estimates for the first half of 2010 show a slowdown in new generation, and without a national renewable policy, the outlook is uncertain. 

National RES

The conference highlighted the need for a national renewable electricity standard (RES) to provide certainty for developers, create jobs, and ensure the U.S. continues to be the leader in the wind industry. Some of the factors attributing to the slowdown are:

  • Reduced power demand;
  • Cheaper natural gas prices;
  • Transmission challenges; and
  • A lack of a national RES

A slowdown in new energy projects also casts a dark shadow on future job growth in the sector.  A recent study conducted by Navigant Consulting showed that if a national portfolio standard of 25 percent renewables by 2025 was enacted, a total of 266,000 new jobs could be generated.  Many states have adopted state specific renewable portfolio standards (RPS) which require utilities to purchase a certain amount of their power from renewable sources.  The problem with state RPS’s are some states have already met or will meet their requirements; therefore state requirements will not be enough to drive the industry in the future. 

Speakers

One of the highlights of the conference was a candid talk by former President George W. Bush who now resides in Dallas.  The president spoke about his energy policies while in office and governor of Texas.  He highlighted the progress the state has made since 1999 when he signed a state renewable portfolio standard setting the stage for Texas leading the way in wind generation.  He also spoke very candidly about his time in office reliving some of the memorable events of his terms such as 9/11, Katrina, and the Iraq war.  The former president also talked about his personal commitment to sustainability where he has installed geothermal heating at his home in Crawford, and his new library at Southern Methodist University will be LEED certified.    He looked very relaxed and comfortable in his life away from politics and gave us a glimpse of his new memoir coming out in the fall detailing some of the major decisions he made in office.

North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan discussed the great strides wind energy has made through the years and the need for a national RES standard to enable the wind industry to maintain momentum into the future.  The senator believes in a diverse generating portfolio including fossil fuels, natural gas, coal and renewable energy.  He feels renewable energy is part of our national interest and we should start divesting from foreign sources of energy.  The senator is hoping to vote this summer on an energy bill which contains a national RES.  The senator also spoke of his frustration over the state of our transmission system and the need to modernize it. Transmission is one of the siting constraints developers face to deliver power generated in rural areas to the load centers. An example he gave was over the last decade, the country has built 11,000 miles of natural gas pipeline but only 660 miles of high voltage electricity lines. 

There was also an interesting roundtable discussion with Governors Chet Culver of Iowa, Bill Ritter of Colorado, and Ted Strickland of Ohio.  The governors highlighted the success stories of renewable energy projects in their state and the benefits of the wind industry in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing jobs to their states.  They also reinforced the need for a national RES to maintain renewable energy development which in turn creates more jobs.

That’s about it from Big D and look forward to seeing everyone next year in Anaheim, California.

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