The wind industry will begin flexing its political muscle in the run-up to the presidential elections, with the goal of holding politicians accountable for their support, or lack thereof, for wind-generated electricity.
“We are a big industry … we want to flex our muscle more,” said Mike Garland, president and CEO of Pattern Energy, speaking Wednesday to reporters on a panel with other industry officials from its Wind Power 2015 conference in Orlando, Fla. Pattern is a leading wind energy company that owns and operates facilities in three countries.
Garland, with the American Wind Energy Association, will begin holding town forums with presidential hopefuls on both sides of aisle to push them on their commitment to the renewable energy industry.
Industry officials point out that Iowa, the state that holds the nation’s first presidential nominating contest, is one of the largest wind production states. The wind industry also expanded its market in the last year beyond the utility sector to secure long-term agreements from technology giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
Garland said “we have been very collegial” in the past, but “we have to be more proactive” by interjecting the voice of the industry into the presidential debate in a much more visible way.
He said the wind industry will be much more assertive on the campaign trail, where the industry will seek to hold politicians “accountable” for their support and call them out when they don’t live up to their obligations.
Wind industry officials also will reach out to members of Congress to counter what the industry says are misconceptions about wind-generated electricity being unreliable and expensive. Garland and other officials say the facts show just the opposite – wind provides low cost electricity and makes the grid more reliable.
At a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday, Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., listed “non-baseload” generators as a challenge to grid reliability. Non-baseload means it can’t produce power 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., made a similar statement at the hearing, which reviewed draft legislation on grid reliability.
Whitfield said “mandates and incentives for renewable power have led to growth in sources like wind, but these energy sources pose great intermittency issues,” meaning they do not generate electricity when the wind is not blowing – requiring help from fossil energy power plants. But coal-fired power plants are threatened by strict environmental regulations that are forcing coal power plants to retire, the lawmakers said.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration remains bullish on wind, and used the annual wind conference to underscore the growing role of wind energy in providing reliable electricity. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz addressed the conference Tuesday, saying wind energy has increased six-fold in the last few years to become 4.5 percent of the nation’s electricity supply.
The Energy Department also released a report Tuesday that shows that advanced technologies can enable wind energy to reach all 50 states – extended its reach from being a Midwest phenomenon to becoming a resource for the Southeast.
Meanwhile, the industry remains dependent on federal tax credits and has struggled to persuade Congress to enact a more permanent subsidy. The Production Tax Credit is structured in such a way that it usually expires after one year, which has been the case in recent years.
Officials says they want Congress to extend the tax credit for five years and work out a way to phase it out in that period. Garland says he is unsure if that can be accomplished going into a presidential election year.
The subsidy has become a focal point for Republicans, who argue that the renewable energy industry should rely on the support it receives from the market, not from the government.
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