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Wind industry fights to defend its position as clean energy alternative

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s emphasis on clean energy and the fight in Congress over energy legislation is creating some tension among certain sectors, including the natural gas and wind power industries.

The American Wind Energy Association has been fighting lately to counter a column in The Wall Street Journal that challenged a key selling point of wind – that it reduces carbon emissions. The industry also is defending its federal subsidies, arguing that they are actually less than those received by oil and gas companies.

“We’ve been under attack by the fossil fuel industry,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.

Bode is a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, but she’s also a former head of the Washington, D.C.-based trade group for independent oil and gas producers and was a highly visible advocate for the natural gas industry when she worked for the American Clean Skies Foundation.

Now, her organization is claiming that an oil and gas company trade group and think tanks financed in part with energy money are spreading misinformation to discredit wind as a renewable
energy source.

The Western Energy Alliance, formerly the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, released a report earlier this year that concluded renewable electricity mandates had actually caused pollution increases in Texas and Colorado because the coal and natural gas plants needed to accommodate the variability in wind sources operated less efficiently.

The study was cited in The Wall Street Journal column, written by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and that column was then cited by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Bryce questioned whether wind energy’s contribution to reducing emissions would ever be significant and argued that the emphasis should be on natural gas.

The wind energy association countered last week with Department of Energy figures showing carbon emissions had dropped steadily in Texas and Colorado as wind power was added to the mix. And it has cited studies projecting that emissions would drop by as much as 25 percent if wind generated 20 percent of electric power in the country.

It’s not just a fight between wind and natural gas in Washington and beyond; there are lobbying battles between coal and natural gas and nuclear versus renewable sources.

And the stakes could be high.

Though pre-election fighting could further stall passage of energy legislation in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he still hopes to pass a bill before lawmakers adjourn for the year. And he said that he hopes to include a national renewable energy standard – a requirement for utilities to use a certain amount of renewable energy.

The wind energy association has been pushing hard for a renewable standard, arguing that it would spur manufacturing jobs while reducing emissions.

But lawmakers from states in the Southeast, where wind isn’t as plentiful or as easy to harness, have been strongly opposed to mandates for renewable energy.

Trade groups for oil and gas companies, including the Independent Petroleum Association of America, have not taken a public position on a renewable energy standard.

Jeff Eshelman, a spokesman for the IPAA, said the organization has always cited the importance of all domestic energy sources.

“However, we do take issue with proposals that call for taxing American oil and natural gas companies to subsidize nonconventional energy resources,” he said.

The oil and gas industry has been pushing hard since President Barack Obama took office against his proposals to change tax rules that the industry considers vital. Democratic members of Congress also have proposed higher fees and penalties for offshore drilling.

Some lawmakers have promoted a broader mandate, called the clean energy standard, which would allow for more than just renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy. And groups representing natural gas companies have argued that natural gas should be included in such a standard.

Bode recently suggested that the industry’s future is dependent on a renewable energy standard, and she said she was in the fight “to the bitter end.”