Windy Campaign Trail

When you go to the campaign site for New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) and click on the “Multimedia” tab, a short video clip starts streaming onto your computer screen. Richardson, who is up for reelection, appears in a blue-denim shirt, standing against the New Mexican backdrop of blue sky and fields of gold tinged with green. But the state’s natural beauty isn’t what’s dominating that backdrop.

Spinning gracefully behind Richardson is a row of white, recent-model wind turbines. “This wind farm is a good example of how New Mexico is becoming a national leader in clean energy,” Richardson says in the ad, gesturing toward the towers behind him. “Since I became governor, we’ve started requiring companies to produce 10% of their energy from renewable sources.” After mentioning the elimination of the state sales tax on hybrid cars and a solar tax credit, the governor adds, “Clean energy is the key to lower gas prices, ensuring our national security and creating the jobs of the future.” Richardson is not alone in his use of wind energy as part of his political platform and image-making strategy. Indicative of its having evolved into a mainstream energy source, wind energy is something that candidates in 2006 are discussing, debating, and publicizing. It’s the economy, stupid Using wind power in campaign spots is not new to 2006, suggesting that this is no fad but a trend that’s here to stay. During the 2004 election cycle, for example, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) shot a commercial in the tower manufacturing facility of DMI Industries in West Fargo, N.D., highlighting wind power’s ability to bring jobs to the state. Another 2006 example is U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), an incumbent up for reelection, whose commercial shows her standing before a set of wind turbines as she expounds on the link between wind power and energy security. Senator Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) also has spinning wind turbines on a commercial appearing on her web site. And then there is Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter, whose very first television commercial of the campaign season (aired September 5) once again shows the candidate talking to the viewer with a row of wind turbines gently turning behind him. “In Colorado, the future is building wind farms…,” Ritter says. The candidate talks about creating jobs via “a new energy economy.” Truly, wind turbines seem ubiquitous this campaign season. “Ritter is just constantly talking about renewable energy and an opportunity to create a new economy,” says farmer Mike Bowman, a co-chairman of the Coalition for Colorado’s New Energy Future, which is advocating a 20% renewable portfolio standard by 2015 for the state. As you might have already noticed from these examples, a common theme among such ads and political platforms is one that candidates have stumped on since the very first election was held: jobs and the economy. Another common element is to link another top priority of recent years, security, with wind power and other renewables. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), a strong renewables advocate particularly in terms of their importance on the security front, recently posed for cameras hoisting up a model wind turbine. Lugar certainly is one who can talk about national security: he holds the powerful post of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman. Wind is not only in, it’s in the very fabric of the country, it appears. “Political leaders and candidates are focusing on the benefits of wind energy in their campaigns-particularly rural economic development, national security, and clean air,” notes AWEA Legislative Director Jaime Steve. Three concrete benefits in one-now that’s something that candidates are more than happy to trumpet. Also illustrating how wind energy has gone mainstream as both a resource and powerful fodder for campaign material is that it is party-neutral. Richardson and Ritter are Democrats, while Lugar is a Republican, as is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who also is up for reelection and is using his state’s new No. 1 ranking as the top wind power state to his political advantage. Texas tactics It was the perfect setup. Almost one of those “You’re no Jack Kennedy” moments. Texas incumbent Perry was squaring off against his three rivals in what would be the only debate before the election — and so candidates needed to make sure they chose their talking points carefully. Directing his question at Kinky Friedman, the colorful candidate running as an independent, Perry asked about Friedman’s longterm energy policy. As many candidates do these days, Friedman made references to renewables such as solar and wind. In his colorful, anti-establishment way, Friedman concluded: “Wouldn’t it be nice to be No. 1 in something besides executions, toll roads, property taxes, and drop-outs.” Perry didn’t miss a beat. “Mr. Friedman,” he said, “I’m glad you brought it up about being No. 1 because the state of Texas is the No. 1 wind generating state in the nation.” Power buzz in Vermont In some states, wind plays a significant part in the political discourse because of recent history and near-term needs. In Vermont, for example, electricity is a key campaign issue because the state will soon have to make some pivotal decisions about its power sources. “Energy issues are central to the future of the economy, and questions about Vermont’s energy future have played an important role in this year’s race for governor,” began an October 15 editorial in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Currently the state gets much of its electricity from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and contracts with Hydro-Quebec for hydropower. But Vermont Yankee is entering its twilight years, while the Hydro-Quebec contracts will expire in the early part of the next decade. So with the state’s electricity already coming mostly from non-fossil fuel sources, the debate is on as to how to prudently replace that power. Here to stay The list of states with windy campaign trails goes on. Bottom line is, candidates are realizing that wind power is a no-brainer: it’s good for the economy, energy security, and the environment. That’s a combination that political candidates can’t resist. Carl Levesque is the Communications Editor at AWEA. This article first appeared in the AWEA Windletter and was reprinted with permission from the American Wind Energy Association.
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