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New AWEA Leadership Urges Strategy, Unity for US Wind Industry

Kicking off the AWEA Windpower 2013 event in Chicago, the new leadership of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) took to the stage and underscored a five-point plan to build a viable and sustainable industry centered around developing a unified message backed by personal contributions.

Gabriel Alonso, incoming chair of AWEA and CEO of EDP Renewables North America, acknowledged the smashing success seen in 2012 -- 42 percent of all energy installed in the U.S. was wind -- but said that's really just "another chapter in the book we're all writing: the book of success." Efforts continue to quickly move wind energy down the path to becoming the most competitive source of electricity. New turbine technologies are helping lower costs. Extending the PTC with new clarifications means the industry and its stakeholders "are willing to commit billions in new projects over the next few years," he said.

But more has to be done, and Alonso set a new goal: 8,000 MW of new wind energy capacity each year. "Everything we do must converge around that goal," he emphasized, and with that he pitched a five-point plan for AWEA. Strengthening the industry's sole trade organization (AWEA) is, naturally, high on his priority list to enhance the industry's asset base from R&D to safety and compliance to public affairs.

Perhaps equally important is developing a proactive communications plan. "We need to take ownership of our message and get our brand back," he said. Four years ago most people wouldn't have seen any difference between "clean energy" and "renewable energy," but today everybody has a "clean" message, including the coal and gas sectors that have aggressively campaigned to deliver that message. This extends to development of a long-term strategy for AWEA and the industry. The easy near-term refrain to recite is to get another few years out of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), but what is the longer-term goal that will lead to a viable and sustainable wind industry? Everyone from policymakers to landowners to schoolteachers needs to "understand where we're heading," Alonso said.

Which leads to his fourth platform point: unity. The wind industry's sole trade organization is actually its greatest benefit: "We have one voice. That's tremendously valuable," he said. Uniting stakeholders, regional partners, and all supporters around AWEA and speaking through its platform multiplies the industry's credibility. "We're in a better position to deal with our challenges when we stick with one voice," he said.

And the fifth thrust of Alonso's long-term plan: "you," he told the audience, and the 75 percent of Americans who say they want more wind energy. "We don't have an army of campaigns to deliver our message, but we do have an army of people who know we're doing the right thing," he said. "The power of many can outweigh the power of money." As CEO of EDP "I can open a few doors," he said, "but you must deliver your message," telling individual stories about wind energy's local and personal importance. "When we tell that story united, we are so much more powerful."

Incoming AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan echoed the message of personal responsibilities in advocating wind energy. "The industry is in flux," he said. "To figure out a way through the challenges and opportunities, we need to hear from you," whether that's through the Washington, DC offices, in Congress, or visiting wind farms and manufacturing facilities. Likewise, he urged the creation of a longer-term plan for both the industry and AWEA that is inclusive of the industry from developers to technology suppliers to service firms to utilities. But such plans for either end won't go anywhere without a better advocacy strategy, he said. He offered his own five-point plan of action:

  • get bigger and stronger resources on the ground in state capitals, working with regional partners;
  • develop a single overarching plan and message;
  • grow lobbying efforts to a thousand strong, for both federal and state-level work;
  • create more diverse and stronger coalitions aligned with community groups and chambers of commerce;
  • and raise a lot more money for the wind PAC.

The wind industry needs an aggressive, innovative campaign effort, more than we've ever had, "to emphasize and dictate discussions about this sector's clean, affordable, and homegrown benefits," Kiernan said. Invoking a conversation he once had with his four-year-old son explaining his work in renewable energy, he told the audience: "My and your children need us to succeed in 'making the sky blue.'"

Also taking the podium to officially open and welcome AWEA this week was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who sidestepped the easy and overused "Windy City" moniker to tell the city's story about its growing pedigree in green energy. Thirteen major wind power companies are in what he called "America's inland port," and the state ranks fourth in wind energy capacity. More than 30,000 workers are in construction on everything from roads to airport to schools and mass transit, creating a foundation for the next few decades. "You can't have a 21st-century economy if it's sitting on a 20th-century foundation," he quipped. In the last year Chicago has closed the last two coal-fired power plants operating in a city, he pointed, out. And the city is building out a citywide smart grid, retrofitting all public facilities -- they now have 28 million square feed under construction in this retrofitting effort. The city has also doubled its number of LEED-certified buildings, the highest in the nation, and is working under a grand with the U. of Chicago and Argonne Labs to "make the city a center of battery research."

Lead image: Flag waving on the wind via Shutterstock

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