Project Development, Wind Power

U.S. Senators Mount Assault on Wind Power

Just in time to cast a pall over the wind power industry, which convened in Colorado last week for their annual trade show, two U.S. senators unveiled a bill that would cripple future development of wind power projects throughout the U.S.

The innocuously-named “Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act of 2005” introduced by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator John Warner (R-VA), which could be rolled into a comprehensive energy bill currently under consideration in Congress, would have an immediate and devastating effect on the U.S. wind power industry, according to experts and industry sources. When introducing the bill in a Senate floor speech delivered on Friday, May 13, Sen. Alexander attacked wind power, saying that “wind produces puny amounts of high-cost unreliable power,” and that “Congress should not subsidize the destruction of the American landscape.” The bill takes aim at wind power’s coveted Production Tax Credit (PTC), the on-again, off-again tax credit that is the federal government’s primary support mechanism to level wind power’s playing field with the traditional energy industries. The bill would wipe out the availability of the PTC to any wind project located within 20 miles of a coastline, military base, national park or other highly scenic area. It would also allow a neighboring state to veto any wind project proposed within 20 miles of that state’s border. Experts believe it unfairly singles out wind power and would bring the burgeoning clean energy industry to a grinding halt. “The level of ignorance in Sen. Alexander’s speech is remarkable,” said Willett Kempton, Associate Professor, College of Marine Studies, Senior Policy Scientist, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. Kempton, along with a number of colleagues and graduate students at the University, recently completed a comprehensive study on offshore wind power, and particularly the public perceptions and reactions to it. Much of Sen. Alexander’s obvious ire towards wind power appears centered on the chance that the U.S. Congress might someday pass a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a national requirement that utilities source 10 percent of their electric power from renewable energy technologies. Wind power is likely to play the largest role of all the renewable energy technologies at satisfying a national RPS. The Senator’s speech, according to Professor Kempton, serves to substantiate that wind power is the most commercially viable renewable energy technology and that the Senator’s main problem is with wind power taking the lion’s share of new renewable energy developments and experiencing continued strong growth. “In essence, Sen. Alexander’s speech, argues that wind power is the most cost-effective, largest renewable energy resource, therefore it stands to gain the most from current and proposed policies to encourage renewable energy (the existing PTC and the proposed federal RPS),” Kempton said. “However, the Senator says, wind power is visually intrusive and large. Therefore, the bill prohibits the current PTC to be used for wind power in many locations, including all offshore locations (that’s where most of the wind is on the East Coast). Kempton also questioned the timing of the Senator’s remarks, citing General Electric’s recent forays into wind power. The company sold $1 billion of wind turbines this year, will sell $2 billion next year and just announced a 300 percent increase in their revenues in 2004 over their first year of operations in 2002. In a speech on May 9th, announcing a new campaign from GE focused on increasing commitments to clean energy technologies, Jeffrey Immelt GE’s CEO mentioned possible future ‘carbon constraints’, which GE is trying to build technologies to prepare for. “Four days later, on May 13th, Sen. Alexander gives a speech blasting the wind industry, and introduces a bill removing subsidies for all offshore wind, the area which GE’s technologies lead the world,” Kempton said. “It is either very odd timing, or the fossil fuel lobbyists are quick at running their bills and speeches through friendly Senators’ offices.” Representatives of the U.S. wind power industry also alluded to there being more at play. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) pointed out that Sen. Warner is an original co-sponsor of the bill and in the past has teamed up with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to oppose the Cape Wind project, a wind energy project proposed for offshore Nantucket, Mass. AWEA said that both Senators families have vacation homes near Nantucket and that Sen. Alexander maintains a vacation home near Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. Jaime Steve, AWEA’s legislative Director, said Sen. Alexander’s bill unreasonably singles out wind energy with ill-advised restrictions on future wind development. “By severely limiting new wind energy development, Sen. Alexander’s anti-wind bill would result in more air pollution and more acid rain from burning fossil fuels while also eliminating thousands of American jobs, many located in rural America,” Steve said. And about 100 of these jobs are located at the Aerisyn wind tower manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in Sen. Alexander’s own home state. Some information for this article was courtesy of AWEA