States, Markets Step Up to Lead on US Clean Energy Future — Boost Jobs, Grid & Cheaper Electricity

Considerable apprehension and alarm was raised among world audiences when President Trump announced his plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris global climate pact, effective November 2020.

Among those who paid the news less attention, however, were clean-energy investors. Indeed, leading global investment indexes for wind, solar and other renewables actually rose by modest amounts. “The muted response,” Bloomberg reported, “is a sign that investors expect demand for clean energy will continue go grow, in the U.S and around the world.”

That’s because the main drivers of America’s clean-energy transformation are the states and markets — and neither show any sign of changing course. For more than a decade, states and energy markets have led the clean-technology revolution that’s transforming how Americans get power — for the better.

Today, the top three new U.S. power sources — wind, natural gas and solar — make up 90 percent of new generating capacity, and are delivering cleaner and cheaper power to consumers. As homegrown resources, they’re improving energy security, diversifying our all-of-the-above energy mix and strengthening reliability of the power grid. They’ve also spurred a booming workforce of more than half a million U.S. jobs that’s growing nine times faster than the U.S. average.

Federal policy has contributed — not by pre-empting but supporting states — to empower well-functioning markets, encourage innovation and efficiency, ensure a level playing field, eliminate barriers and excess regulation, and enable an environment for investment. Backed by three past administrations and broad bipartisan support, federal policy has encouraged innovation and a level playing field, so businesses and consumers could choose cheaper, cleaner energy options from a diversified mix.

Image: Chris Brown and Ben Fowke, CEO, Xcel Energy, WINDPOWER, May 24. Credit: AWEA

“The fuel of choice right now is wind” — Xcel Energy

The future for wind came into sharp relief at the industry’s recent WINDPOWER conference, which underscored wind’s market momentum and new industry partnerships — including with utilities — that are reshaping America’s business realities.

I participated in a panel with Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, one of wind’s top utility customers, who said that low-cost “wind energy is saving our customers billions of dollars” while also improving reliability of the grid.

“The fuel of choice right now, certainly for us, is wind,” Fowke said. “Most of our customers want a cleaner energy product, but all of them want a more affordable product… Wind is a fuel that’s saving them money.” In January, Xcel closed one of its Colorado natural-gas plants for two days and let wind supply half its customer demand. Xcel has reached as high as 67 percent wind in its eight-state region

Fowke called wind “the fuel of tomorrow, on sale today,” adding, “we’re going to have in just five years 35 percent of our energy across all those eight states come from wind… I’m very comfortable with that today.”

Leveraging Wind’s Value for Customers

Xcel’s experience is clearly resonating with other U.S. regional grids. In Texas, which Energy Secretary Perry led as governor to be America’s No. 1 wind powerhouse, ERCOT exceeded 50 percent wind in March. Southwest Power Pool reached 54 percent wind this spring in its 14 states and eyes even more. PJM reports its 11-state grid can handle more than 75 percent wind.

Across the nation, regional power pools are increasing their reliance on wind, and leveraging its value for customers as the lowest-cost, most-predictable and most-reliable energy in America’s “all-of-the-above” mix.

Wind is winning because its costs are down 66 percent since 2009. Wind now competes with natural gas and solar as low-cost market leaders. It continues to advance efficiency with improved wind-turbine technology, smart data and forecasting that can predict where the wind will blow and its estimated return for investors.

That has attracted utilities like Xcel and MidAmerican and corporate buyers like Amazon and Google, making wind America’s No. 1 renewable energy. Wind has 53,000 turbines in 41 states, enough to power 24 million homes. Every year, the industry as a whole supports more than 30 U.S. jobs for each new wind turbine, and 44 years of full-time work for a turbine’s full-life. Wind will support a quarter million U.S. jobs by 2020, including those near wind farms and factories, rising to 600,000 U.S. jobs by 2050.

America’s energy future lies in looking ahead, to the business realities driving the marketplace and real benefits to customers and consumers, not in looking to the past and technologies the markets no longer finds competitive.

Stepping Up for Clean Energy Makes Economic Sense

For wind, that future is today. Wind is competing and winning on price. States and markets will continue to lead on clean energy and turn to wind because it makes economic sense — supplying cheaper power to customers, boosting U.S. jobs and improving the grid.

Today, more than 30 states have embraced grid modernization, which should be part of a new federal infrastructure initiative. Presidential economic advisor Gary Cohn said the U.S. “can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly” by investing in wind and solar and exporting natural gas. Federal policy can step up with actions that support these words.

States and the markets are already headed in that direction on clean energy — and history shows that no force on earth is more powerful than the U.S. marketplace with the wind at its back. With a policy assist to eliminate barriers and connect supply to demand, the markets may yet be able to help save the planet, while delivering the lowest-priced power to U.S. customers.

That’s a winning proposition all Americans can live with.

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Chris Brown is president, Vestas Americas and board member and past chair of the American Wind Energy Association. Prior to Vestas, he served as Chief Operating Officer for the City of Detroit for about two years. A board member on the American Wind Energy Association, Brown's energy background includes time in the offshore wind industry, senior executive at a large U.S. utility and managing director at an international utility. Previously, he was Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Deepwater Wind LLC, where he created the plan for a 3,000 MW offshore wind company; Executive Vice President for DTE Energy Resources, where he was responsible for DTE's largest non-utility businesses including Energy Services, Coal Services, Biomass and Methane Resources; Senior Vice President of Singapore Power and Managing Director of Singapore Power International; Director of Asia Operations for Entergy Corporation; and Counsel for Constellation Energy. Brown holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Villanova University School of Law and a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Delaware. He also attended Bonn University in Bonn, Germany, as a Fulbright Scholar, where he studied economics and finance.

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