Wind is Winning and We’re Just Getting Started

Remarks delivered May 24, 2017, at American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) WINDPOWER conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Last year we discussed where our industry fits in the arc of human progress. This year I’d like to talk about opportunity, and also about conquering our fears.

Last year was about setting the course. This year is about staying that course. I said that we are on the right side of history, and that we were moving into a bold future, where wind continues to compete on price.

The hardest decision we made was to accept as an industry the PTC phase-down. It was a bold, visionary decision based on the belief that we could compete on a level playing field, that we could compete on cost.

It took courage, and I’m here today to tell you we need to stay the course. The last 12 record-breaking months have proved we’re delivering on that fundamental proposition and our vision of low-cost power to consumers.

However, our success has attracted some detractors, who now want politicians to take that grand bargain we made. But the detractors want to focus on fear as a tactic. We have a successful strategy, they just have tactics. The tactic is to rattle the cage about repealing the PTC. Too many in this industry have convinced themselves that they should be afraid of what will happen in the next five years.

The fact is, everybody’s afraid before the ball tips. Fear is fine. It’s a necessary part of winning. But don’t let fear distract you. Don’t let your opponents’ tactics distract, instead of executing your strategy. To put it simply, too many people in this room are spending too much time worrying about what politicians are going to do to us.

Image credit: AWEA

Our future is not about fear. It’s about opportunity. I’m here to tell you that the next five years of this industry aren’t going to be the end of the industry. They are going to be the best five years of your life.

So it’s fitting that we’re meeting in California, where entrepreneurs have used technology and visionary thinking to succeed and innovate. Every one of the global success stories that have come from this state were executed by people who felt that fear — but guess what, they executed anyway. So along with this success we’ve been having, if you’ve become afraid, then I say, “Good.”

Welcome to life as an energy industry disrupter.

Of course, we have critics both in government and in the incumbent sectors they promote. They are trying to rely on ideology and magical thinking to argue against our ability to continue winning. They want us to begin doubting instead of believing in our future and having confidence in our strategies.

Let me tell you a couple things that I believe in:

First, I believe in power costs continuing to drop as wind energy grows.

  • We’ve driven down costs, as Tom and Tristen said yesterday, by 66 percent since 2009.

Second, I believe in the grid becoming more stable as wind energy grows.

  • Grid reliability for MidAmerican improved by 15 percent, while wind energy grew 15-fold.

Third, I believe that wind is a significant industry in rural and Rust Belt economies in America.

  • We’ve built a multi-billion-dollar supply chain across all 50 states.
  • Our workforce is about 102,000 and on track to double by 2020.
  • Compare that to 82,000 jobs in the coal industry.

Fourth, I believe in wind delivering value for utilities and major corporate customers.

  • Utilities like Xcel are buying wind to save their customers money, and companies like Google and Amazon are employing wind to hedge their costs.

Let’s stop and think for a minute. That’s a four-part list that the competition is afraid of. Critics criticize. We all know that. It’s what they do when they want to distract you with – their criticism.

Ask yourselves: Why are those critics paying attention to us? Because we’re a threat!

Because we’re winning. Because they know we’re driving into a future in which:

  • Markets work efficiently;
  • There’s an orderly transition to cleaner energy sources;
  • Costs will continue to go down;
  • And customers will continue to win with lower costs.

So, if some in government want to find a more efficient way to have an energy model, I’m all in.

But that’s reality, not ideology. That’s business reality, not magical thinking. That’s what we should be driven by, business realities. The reality, as Tristan discussed yesterday, is this next evolution will be about the market.

And if we’re going to focus on the market, let’s agree on just a couple of principles:

First, if we’re going to talk about energy policies, let’s keep no sacred cows.

  • We’re going to talk about but it’s time to question the effectiveness of capacity markets.

Second, no more finger wagging about wind energy’s policy support.

  • While we’re walking down that ladder of policy support, incumbent energy sources still sit on a fat subsidy couch. We’ve given it up.
  • Let markets work, not ideology.

Third, let’s figure how to work environmental state and federal policies together, to complement each other.

  • Maybe we should be taxing pollution, and investing in infrastructure, carbon free.

Finally, let’s face the reality: Wind does not affect reliability.

  • ISOs around the world are reliably integrating record levels of wind, and we’re doing it here.
  • Let’s not make the claim that we can’t do the same. That’s my challenge to those in public office.

But here’s my challenge to you: Don’t be distracted by fear.

Image: Chris Brown joins industry panel following remarks at WINDPOWER on May 24, 1017. Credit: AWEA

Seize the opportunity that our success has created: Stay focused on the vision that we set for our industry.

I’m not afraid of competition, because I know it’s a team sport.

Look at the unstoppable teams that this industry has created for the next evolution of our industry: Abel, Fehrman, and Budler… Alonzo and Cague… Garland and Armistead… Gaynor, Alvarez, Keel, Spiliotis… O’Sullivan, Di Donato, Gildea… Grimbert, Pfaff, Ghilardi, Del Rio…

Those are just a few of the names that are really driving this industry. They are not worried about fear. They’re not worried about chirping critics. They stay on the course and they deliver on wind’s fundamental value proposition.

Great leaders are driven by partnerships. That means we can compete and win.

It’s the reason why we’ve won key utilities as champions, such as Xcel Energy.

Xcel, with Ben Fowke, is at the top of one of our industry champions. He coined the phrase “wind is on sale” and under his guidance they’ve “backed the truck up” to buy wind, as Ben likes to say.

I want to close with one last reminder.

I’ve been honored to be your chairman for the last 12 months, and I’m here to support Tristan Grimbert going forward.

But I’m not going anywhere.

This industry is just getting started.

The next five years are going to be the best we’ve ever seen. 

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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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