In one of his first major public appearances since leaving office, former President George W. Bush gave a speech this morning to attendees at WindPower 2010 in Dallas, Texas. But his speech was about far more than wind – it was about painting his legacy.
The once-embattled president has been noticeably silent over the last 18 months, giving few interviews or speeches. Now with a book about to come out, Bush is once again in the public eye, telling his own version of the story of his political career. One big piece of that story is his early support for wind.
As Governor of Texas in 1999, Bush signed a renewable portfolio standard into law that turned Texas into the leading wind state. The industry has put about 7 GW of wind online in the state over the last eleven years. If Texas were it’s own country, it would be the sixth largest wind market in the world.
“We sat there and said, ‘we have a hell of a lot of wind in Texas – why don’t we figure out how to harness it?’” said Bush in his speech. “We had the vision to see beyond the horizon.”
While many people don’t consider Bush to be an environmentally progressive guy, his early action as governor spurred the development of other renewable energy targets in states eager to copy Texas’ success. ::continue::
“My goal was to create an entrepreneurial heaven,” he said. “I believe it is the government’s role to help expedite the development of new technologies.”
Bush showed strong support for the wind industry, saying that it was in the nation’s economic, environmental and national security interests to continue development of wind and other renewables.
He was noticeably silent on the need for a national renewable energy target – something that the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has been pushing for aggressively. Without such a target, says AWEA, growth in the wind manufacturing sector will slow down dramatically and installations will drop. That is already happening today due to falling demand for power, lower electricity prices and lower natural gas prices. The lack of a federal mandate isn’t helping anything.
When then-President Bush left office, his low approval ratings and lack of a political mandate mirrored the wind industry’s woes of today. This morning’s speech was clearly a way for Bush to hitch his wagon to the burgeoning renewable energy industry and help shape his legacy in energy policy.
That can only be a good thing for Bush and for the wind industry.
It gives the wind industry instant credibility as a legitimate energy player with bi-partisan support. It also gives Bush an opportunity to brandish his environmental credentials as a wind pioneer. (Aside from the fact that all energy bills passed during his administration provided only moderate support for the industry).
Due to the market factors described above, the U.S. wind industry is in a tough spot at the moment. Installations have dropped dramatically and could be down 40-50% this year. But having someone like George W. Bush at this year’s wind conference gives the wind industry a firm political platform to stand on. Perhaps the industry can ride that momentum to get the political support it’s asking for.