Today was the opening day of the WINDPOWER 2012 expo, which is the annual big conference of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA, pronounced ah-wee-ah). This year the conference is in Atlanta, a city not known for wind energy. The whole American Southeast is basically without
any substantial amount or wind turbines and that is maybe the point of having it here. New technology is making it possible to harness the limited amounts of wind, and Georgia is increasingly getting involved in building parts for wind energy farms.
This morning we had the kick off session that featured two sitting governors: Mike Beebe of Arkansas, a Democrat, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican. Both are big supporters of wind power, although for different reasons. Arkansas has a hungry manufacturing industry that would like to do more business with the wind industry. After all, nearly 30,000 people of the 70,000 employed by the wind energy industry in the US work in manufacturing. Kansas, on the other hand, has a lot of wind, and now leads the country in total new wind energy installations in 2012. As the picture shows, Gov. Brownback is proudly rocking a wind turbine tie.
Another important speaker was Heather Zichal, who is President Obama’s climate change advisor. She reiterated that Obama has an “all of the above” energy strategy, and is a supporter of wind energy. Fortunately, she has a firm grasp of the fundamental issue facing the wind industry: the all important Production Tax Credit (PTC). In a nutshell, the PTC provides an important tax incentive to build wind farms, and can make all the difference from a project being a success, or not happening at all. As you might have guessed, the PTC expires at the end of the year. Sadly, it is up to our ineffective Congress to extend the tax credit, which is likely, but who knows what might happen with that crew. If the PTC goes bye-bye this year, it is expected to be gone for good and could seriously put the brakes on wind energy projects. Literally one tenth to one half as many projects are expected to be built in 2013 compared to this year because of the Production Tax Credit mess.
After this opening session, the rest of the day was educational sessions, with a heavy leaning toward the impact of the PTC and about expanding wind energy to undeveloped areas. Most presenters were pessimistic about wind energy in the US, especially in the short term. This is not good for a young person like me who wants to work in the wind industry! The villain in this story is natural gas, which is exceedingly cheap and therefore beating up wind energy. A would be savior is the US Congress, but that is a not an organization most people trust to make the right decision. So in the meantime, we can try to put a price on carbon, push for an extension of the PTC or just hope.
If this seems interesting, please check out this blog in the coming days as I’ll try to have a post for the Tuesday and Weds. sessions.