Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Governors, Mayor Help Kick Off WINDPOWER 2007 with Bold Vision for Wind

Two governors, a former Senate majority leader, the mayor of Los Angeles, and a host of top industry leaders on Monday kicked off the WINDPOWER 2007 Conference & Exhibition by saying wind energy—with the right governmental policies—is one of the key solutions to global warming.

AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher set the stage for the morning’s dialogue, sharing the industry’s vision for 20% of the nation’s electricity needs to come from wind by 2030—an initiative that the industry, AWEA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other stakeholders spent the last year working on after first unveiling it at WINDPOWER 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pa. “That’s a bold vision. It’s not a forecast, but it’s a plausible scenario,” said Swisher. “It requires a transformation of the industry.”

Swisher, along with panelists at the general session that followed (see related story below), underscored the challenges of achieving such a vision. In order to reach the 20% benchmark, policy support, such as the federal production tax credit (PTC) and a federal renewable portfolio standard, would need to be long-term and stable, enabling the industry’s value chain to be augmented and made more efficient. A 20% level of wind penetration, which would mean installing over 300 gigawatts in capacity, also requires building the necessary transmission infrastructure to carry wind power from wind-rich areas to load centers.

As part of the 20% initiative, American Electric Power developed a map of what a transmission system might look like with 20% wind penetration. The cost to build such an infrastructure would be $60 billion, AEP concluded. (Regardless of the role wind plays, the nation’s transmission infrastructure is in need of major upgrade.)

Swisher also said that for wind to realize its potential, geographically large electricity markets and regional transmission organizations such as the PJM Interconnection would need to be the norm, thus maximizing wind’s strengths while minimizing its variable nature. Other challenges, said Swisher, include the need to streamline the siting and permitting processes.

“We realize that it’s not going to be easy, but I think the industry is ready to play,” he said.

Governors Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.) and Chet Culver (D-Iowa) both extolled the economic benefits of wind power and spoke of the renewable resource in terms of the energy security that it fosters. “It’s good business, it’s big business, and it’s good for Montana’s economy,” said Schweitzer.

The Montana governor showed his understanding of the integral part transmission plays in wind’s growth, referencing the proposed Montana-Alberta Tie Line project as well as the Northern Lights line, which would link Montana wind power with the major load centers of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz.

Culver was equally enthusiastic and knowledgeable, speaking of the three wind industry manufacturers that have planted roots in his state, the most recent one being Acciona, which just broke ground on its facility in Iowa. “I believe the key to this new 21 st century expedition begins with renewable energy, and especially wind power, and that’s why I’m here today,” said Culver.

U.S. Representative Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) was an appropriate and noteworthy part of the lineup because of his background in the wind energy industry and commitment to renewables in Congress. In addition to underscoring the importance of such policies as the PTC, McNerney reminisced on how the industry has grown since his early days in the business. He said the turnout at WINDPOWER 2007, expected to approach 7,000 attendees, “shows not only the enthusiasm but the energy of this industry.”

The Los Angeles setting for WINDPOWER 2007 is particularly appropriate because of the city’s commitment to green power and the environment under the leadership of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D). The city will get 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2010, the mayor said, and also has a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% below 1990 levels by 2030. “Very few issues have greater meaning for the future of the city of Los Angeles,” said the mayor.

--from the American Wind Energy Association's Wind Energy Weekly, special WINDPOWER 2007 Conference & Exhibition Daily Edition.

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