ORLANDO — The opening general session at Windpower 2015 marked the first appearance by a U.S. energy secretary at the show, “which is surprising,” said current energy secretary Ernest Moniz, “but better late than never.”
Moniz addressed the crowd of attendees during what AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan called “the most important time in the wind industry.” Indeed, the industry is facing some potential challenges ahead. With the production tax credit slipping through the cracks, wind may soon be stepping into a low-incentive era, while proper transmission is a growing concern. In addition to these obstacles, Moniz emphasized the critical need to address climate change, and said that the government can’t enforce carbon-reduction solutions without finally defeating the climate skeptics.
“If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. That’s where we should be with climate change,” said Moniz. “It’s time to move past fruitless debates that [aren’t] debatable. We need climate solutions, and wind will be a huge part of that.”
In the meantime, Moniz emphasized the importance of continued research and development. In the past five years, the wind industry has reduced costs by more than half and while great strides have been made to increase individual turbine capacity, Moniz highlighted the importance of focusing on other areas, as well. For example, the DOE is investigating the viability of higher turbine heights above 100 meters, which could unlock gigawatts of potential nationwide.
“We’re talking about one-half to two-thirds expansion of highly viable wind resource, and getting up that high is not unheard of. It is done today in Europe, so we need to bring that technology here and deploy it,” said Moniz. “We are far from reaching the R&D horizon, and we will work simultaneously on farther-out concepts while we work with you on things today like higher hub heights.”
On the finance side, Moniz acknowledged that yieldcos are a growing and positive vehicle for private investment, and on the federal side, the DOE will continue to show its support for clean energy with its loan program. With billions of authority remaining, the department is actively working to provide financial support, and Moniz mentioned its recent commitment to the Cape Wind project, though with the recent PPA troubles, everyone is waiting to “see about future of that project.”
Of course, Moniz couldn’t end his address without mentioning the elephant in the room, the PTC. While Kiernan stated that he is confident that a long-term deal will pass, Moniz was a bit more reserved. He acknowledged the “clear, critical need” for a long-term PTC extension, and said the administration is working to include a permanent extension in its FY16 budget request, which focuses on infrastructure for a clean energy future.
“We think this is a very important time for our climate challenge and wind has the opportunity to be major part of the solution to that challenge,” said Moniz. “We need to keep working to…drive down costs and develop technology that greatly enlarges our footprint for deployment. If we can do that, we’ll be able to hit the necessary, ambitious targets for carbon reduction.”
Lead image: Wind turbines. Credit: Shutterstock.