Project Development, Wind Power

WindPower 2003 Opens with Record Numbers

The American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) international tradeshow WINDPOWER 2003 kicked off this week with almost double the number of participants from last year.

Austin, Texas – May 20, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Companies specializing in everything from construction safety harnesses, to massive multi-megawatt turbines were on display at the Austin Convention center. AWEA’s executive director Randal Swisher opened up the conference touting wind energy’s many benefits and acknowledging its hurdles. The resounding message between Swisher and the many executives who followed is that the wind industry, while having grown tremendously in recent years, is nowhere near its potential. Certain key issues must be addressed to allow the industry to fully realize its potential, he said. Chief among them are a multi-year extension of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a national commitment to the procurement of Renewable Energy, a level playing field within the current electric industry, and electricity transmission improvements. “It’s an exciting place to be in this industry right now,” Swisher said. “I see billions of dollars waiting to flow into the industry just waiting for the proper legislative signal.” The wind industry in the U.S. has been stymied by an air of legislative uncertainty. According to Swisher, the good news is that recent legislative signals are positive, and a growth rate of unprecedented vigor could be around the corner should these issues get addressed. Supportive legislation such as a the PTC which currently grants wind farms and other eligible renewable electricity producers a credit of US1.8 cents/kWh has not been implemented consistently or for many years at a time. Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed three-year extensions within their comprehensive energy legislation but there is no guarantee it will become law before its expiration date at the end of this year. A national commitment to Renewable Energy in the form of a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is also pending in congress. This legislation would require a certain percentage of electricity generation come from renewable sources. “A second barrier is getting the electric system rules right,” Swisher said. “The current system simply doesn’t work for wind. The industry is not served by the status quo. We need significant change – and it so happens that there is a solution in sight.” The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been developing a number of proposed changes to the structure and regulation of the electricity industry which would bode well for Renewable Energy which has particular needs not well-addressed in the current system. The Standard Market Design (SMD) was issued nine months ago by the FERC and recently revised with a white paper, while they introduced new rules to streamline the process of getting generation connected to the transmission grid. “It’s clear where we have strong wind resources we can offer cost competitive power,” Swisher said. “What is unclear is what it means to accommodate a large portion of wind within the electric systems. A lot of work needs to be done on accommodating wind and it’s invariability within the system. It’s no way a showstopper though – we know how to do it.” FERC commissioners Bill Massey and Nora Mead Brownell have been particularly supportive of Renewable Energy and spoke following Swisher’s presentation. They outlined their goals for market rules that offer a level playing field for wind power and other new generating resources. AWEA then presented the two Commissioners with awards for federal leadership. “The wind industry simply needs to be nourished with policies that create a level playing field for all renewable technologies,” Massey said. “Federal policy can either discourage the potential or provide the framework for wind to flourish.” While support from within the FERC bodes well for the wind industry, another significant change has occurred within the marketplace. Not only are more companies joining the wind energy game, but large corporations such as General Electric, with their GE Wind division stand to put more weight behind the industry. “GE has created waves,” said AWEA’s Deputy Executive Director, Tom Gray. “Having them on board gives us more credibility.” Gray said it’s a good sign to see a company which was predominantly a natural gas turbine manufacturer now embracing wind power. GE Wind is even running a television commercial to promote their new venture which was made possible through GE Power System’s purchase of the bankrupt Enron Wind last year. “Since 1994 there have been two bankruptcies, but the value was there and snatched up very quickly,” said Ward Marshall, president of AWEA’s board of directors. “The fact is that wind energy is a robust alternative.” Marshall remarked on AWEA’s record growth citing AWEA’s national wind power conference in 1996 which drew about 600 visitors versus the expected 3000 plus at this years event. Exhibitors numbered 165 this year versus last year’s 90 – A far cry from the conference in 1989 when Swisher joined AWEA and they had seven exhibitors. “What I remember from that time was the excitement of being a part of it all and having the vision for this industry – a vision that we see realized today.” Jesse Broehl is in Austin, Texas covering Wind Energy 2003. Check SolarAccess.com for daily updates. He can be reached at [email protected]