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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.

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“Tax credits will trickle down as a lifeline to keep manufacturers alive,” she continues. “But what we really need is a strong national commitment from Congress – a hard target” that sets a percentage requirement for how much renewable energy utilities must use.

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To do that, climate-energy legislation that provides mandates to build renewable energy generation is needed – not just caps on carbon emissions, she says.

A Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) is featured in both the House version of climate energy legislation passed this spring and the currently stalled Senate version. But neither is as strong as Bode would like.

The House bill’s RES starts in 2011 requiring just 4 percent renewable energy rising to 20 percent by 2020. Much of that, however, can met by energy efficiency improvement and “clean coal,” she says with barely disguised disdain.

At this point, the Senate bill’s standard is even weaker – starting in 2010 at 3 percent and rising to 15 percent with various opt out provisions for governors, she says.

Offshore wind development is a big focus right now for the industry, said Bode, particularly in the New England area. The controversial Cape Wind project appears to be moving ahead as the development group announced this month that National Grid would buy “most likely all of the power,” a Cape Wind spokesman told ClimateWire.

But for offshore wind power development to surge, more comprehensive siting studies and policy development is needed at the federal level between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy and Department of Interior.

“New England has to be able to plan for offshore wind power,” Bode says.

Transmission lines are another huge potential roadblock. Without new lines to bring in renewable wind power from distant Plains states, wind generation will be stymied, she says.

New technologies like superconducting cable that could be buried underground out of site, might lessen the local “not-in-my-backyard” type resistance toward lines bring wind power from the Dakotas to major US cities, some industry experts say.

Mortality of wind power to birds and bats remains a question mark and is being studied actively by the industry and independent researchers.

Even so, right now some 300,000 megawatts of wind projects are in the queue, at various stages, Bode says. Many of those aren’t “real” projects yet, she admits.

But it shows that the industry is poised to get to 20 percent of the nation’s energy generation – if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC and other siting authorities can get transmission issues worked out.

“We’re shovel ready, ready to rock and roll, and we can get to 20 percent [of US energy generation] easy, clearly by 2030,” she says. “But transmission is going to be an increasing problem over the next five years.”

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