Stumbling Blocks Still Exist for Wind Energy but the Future Looks Bright

The growth of the wind energy industry in the United States and around the world was on display last week in Houston, Texas at WINDPOWER 2008. The conference program looked at some of the challenges the industry faces moving forward as well as how wind energy can become an even bigger part of the electricity generation mix. These included legal issues related to project development, technology stumbling blocks and how the industry can reduce some of its project costs.

Erin Anderson, an attorney in Stoel Rives LLP’s Natural Resources and Land Use practice group addressed a group of conference attendees about the legal and permitting implications of the wake effect on wind farms. She said that she has seen five of these disputes in the past 10 months and that they will continue to come up in the future as the market grows and companies begin to use all of the wind resources that are available.

“I think the industry needs to be talking about these issues and needs to come up with some solutions, ” she said.

The U.S. wind market has seen a large influx of European players, something that Pete Duprey, Acciona Energy’s North America CEO has seen in his experience with both GE Energy and Acciona. He said that there are many challenges facing European companies moving into the U.S. market including a lack of long term policy planning, cultural differences, permitting differences and inconsistant design approaches.

“The difficulty is being a European coming to the U.S. and this market is extremely different. When I was with GE, I traveled all over the world and the U.S. has some of the most unique incentives of anywhere in the world…It’s hard to come up with one incentive that will work on a national basis because of the diversity of wind speeds.”

The cost of producing wind energy in the U.S. is also rising as tranportation, fuel and raw material costs are all going up. Ric O’Connell, a renewable energy consultant for Black & Veatch said that while wind energy is becoming more expensive to produce the same cost shocks are hitting traditional energy industries as well. He pointed to the fact that wind made up 1/3 of new installed capacity in 2007 as proof that the rising costs are not going to hurt the industry as much as some might fear.

“While there might be gloom and doom for the wind industry there’s also gloom and doom for all the other energy sources out there,” O’Connell said.

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Former Editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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