Wind energy industry looks to Copenhagen for a mandate
In an interview, Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, says the industry needs a renewable energy mandate from the climate conference in Copenhagen and from Congress.
American wind power is blowing strong despite hard economic times. That’s the message from Denise Bode, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association and she’s sticking to it – despite the dicey economy.Skip to next paragraph
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“Last year during an almost depression we added 55 new manufacturing facilities and 35,000 new jobs in the US, which I think makes it one of the bright spots in the economy,” she said in an interview last week with the Monitor.
Right now the industry employs more than 85,000 people with many new wind-power factories having taken over previously empty appliance, auto, and steel plants, she says.
Last year the US took over first place globally in terms of the amount of installed wind power, she notes.
No one disputes that 2008 turned out well indeed for US wind power. The economic hammer really didn’t hit the wind industry until the fall – about a year ago. Wind power had its financing yanked out from under it just as the rest of the economy did.
Even so, many projects that already had their funding soldiered ahead, and by year’s end, a record 8,500 megawatts worth of turbines had been installed.
A large number of projects from the heady go-go days when a flush Wall Street was financing wind farms with abandon were still in the pipeline in 2009 – up through the first half of this year, Ms. Bode acknowledges.
Now, however, the picture is less clear even though there are bright spots.
Growth was strong through the end of the third quarter of 2009 with 5,800 megawatts of capacity built – more than the 5,000 last year.
Still, today there is just 5,000 megawatts of wind power in the near-term development pipeline compared with 8,000 megawatts last year. That slowing is hurting US wind manufacturing plants in places like Iowa, where turbine and blade manufacturing facilities have laid off workers and are sitting on a lot of inventory, analysts say.
The wind power industry got a pick-me-up this summer when stimulus funding began to hit. A measure that allowed an alternate means of financing kicked in – enabling wind-power developers to turn investment tax credits into dollars by getting direct refunds from the federal government.
So far at least $1 billion in such financing has supported the industry this year, Bode says.
“Until the end of 2008, [wind power manufacturers] were making machinery as fast as they could,” she says. “Now we’re still seeing significant problems in this manufacturing sector. The recovery package threw us a lifeline, but they’re still hurting.”
But as important is the stimulus aid was, what happens next in Copenhagen and in Congress – and how soon – is critical, she says.
On her wish list this Christmas is a strong statement or agreement coming out of both the climate summit and Capitol Hill committing the US and the rest of the world to shift away from fossil fuels and put in place clear requirements – a mandate – to build renewable energy.
What happens in global climate and global energy politics matters very much, she says. “It makes a huge difference if the world as a community decides to recognize these [carbon emissions] costs … and say we’re going to do something about it collectively – and move to cleaner sources of generation.”