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Analysis: wind energy debate continues  

Some wind industry officials say project standardization on a federal level might defuse opposition and smooth out kinks in the development process, but recently introduced legislation has been criticized.

Introduced last Wednesday in the House Committee on Natural Resources by Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act includes, among other things, a section on wind energy that would implement strict regulations to be enforced by the Departments of Interior and Energy, imposing fines and even jail time for new and existing turbine owners who don’t comply.

“Wind power is an essential element of the climate change solution,” said Gregory Wetstone, senior director of government and public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association. “Further increasing the percentage of electricity wind produces in America will provide much-needed price stability, generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for farmers and rural communities, and create tens of thousands of jobs.

“We should be looking for ways to accelerate wind energy’s growth rather than putting roadblocks in its path.”

The bill is being met with a “hysterical reaction” from the wind industry, Rahall said.

“I’m not against wind energy,” he said. “But as it grows, and there’s no denying that it is growing, there’s increasing resistance due to lack of regulations and the adverse effect on wildlife, reported by the Government Accountability Office and the National Research Council.

“The Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are not being fully complied with and the legislation seeks to enable the wind energy industry to grow in a way that’s compatible with those federal laws.”

But the industry and members of the administration testifying at a committee hearing Wednesday said the bill had serious flaws.

“Wind energy requires no mining or drilling for fuel, no fuel transportation, no hazardous waste disposal, and no water use; and wind energy generates electricity without toxic pollutants like mercury, without greenhouse pollution, and of course without the conventional pollutants that cause smog and acid rain,” Wetstone said. “Is this really an energy sector Congress should close down, for environmental reasons?”

Legislators were cautioned about setting standards and regulations and permitting processes without understanding how wind technology works.

“We have a lot of input but what we really want is a good fuel that makes economical and environmental sense and we ought to let people go to work and figure out how to come up with that product,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

Researchers and developers need to make sure they are focusing on the right technologies, but without significant understanding, imposing laws could put hurdles in front of promising technologies, Miller said.

“Biodiesel is like magic to me,” said Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., acknowledging he knew very little about the technology he is attempting to regulate.

The renewable and wind regulations are just one portion of the bill. Rahall says it will help protect federal land use. Higher natural gas prices and less development of domestic resources are possible, however, if the bill is passed in its current form. Many committee members said they would not support the current version of the measure.

Efforts on wave power and climate change are included, but even with concerns about wildlife, a way must be found to regulate without impeding the growth of the industry, said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.

“We also need to work more on a rural clean energy super highway, including solar energy parks and transmission,” Costa said. “Strategic solar reserves on federal lands are important because in places like Germany and Spain, research and development are being led.”

Some of the language in the bill is redundant or changes programs that are already under way, said witnesses from the administration at the hearing.

“I don’t see why the process, which is working, should be changed,” said Henri Bissan of the Bureau of Land Management, which plays a role in siting and permitting renewable sites.

Significant time and money have been spent to meet biofuel requirements in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and those sections would be repealed by the new bill, said Melissa Simpson, deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture.

It would negatively affect the Energy Department’s power-marketing administrations that are dedicated to promoting development of renewable resources, specifically hydro and wind. Legislation isn’t necessary, a conditional firm is already mandated by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order, said Vickie VanZandt, senior vice president of Transmission Business Line, Bonneville Power Administration, Department of Energy. Also, amendments to grant processes may cause duplication of already surveyed offshore areas.

“New surveys, for offshore renewable energy projects, should be done in conjunction with NOAA and the emphasis should be on using existing data and not on funding new surveys unless clearly warranted and designated to meet multiple needs,” said Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Department of Commerce.

While Rahall says his bill will help spur development of domestic energy resources, witnesses testified it would slow it. The bill is still being reviewed and mark up will not be until after the Memorial Day recess.

By Kristyn Ecochard
UPI Energy Correspondents

United Press International

25 May 2007


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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