"Yes to RES": US wind industry rallies in Chicago

Steve Sawyer

Steve Sawyer reports back from some notable events, including the second (of 6) negotiating sessions leading up to the UNFCCC cop 15 in Copenhagen, where the world is supposed to agree a new comprehensive global agreement to combat climate change …

The ambition level of industrialised countries is just not where it needs to be.

The "lowlight" of the two week session was Japan’s announcement that it only intends to reduce emissions by 9% compared to 1990 levels by 2020; it is already obligated under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce its emissions to 6% below 1990 levels on average for the period from 2008-2012.

With the US and Canada having already massively increased their emissions over 1990 levels, it seems that we’re a long way from the collective 25%-40% reductions which scientists tell us that industrialised countries need to deliver in order to avoid the worst of climate change.

But we still have 6 months (and four more negotiating sessions) to go – there’s still time for Governments to come to their senses.

Windpower 2009

Chicago, the "Windy City", was an appropriate venue for WINDPOWER 2009, the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference and exhibition. Walking into the massive McCormick Place Convention Center, it was clear that the wind industry in the United States has finally taken its rightful place as a major player in the US energy sector: wind was responsible for 42% of all new power generating capacity installed in the USA in 2008.

And the politicians have noticed. In addition to the traditional indus-try players, political heavyweights including US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Spain’s Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Miguel Sebas-tian; and 7 US state Governors (Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Iowa) were in attendance.

That’s what struck me most about the WINDPOWER event: in the past couple of years it has transformed into a platform for political activism. You couldn’t walk down a corridor without overhearing the word "RES".

Indeed, the opening session began with a pep rally – with tens of thousands of people yelling "yes to RES" over and over.

To buttress this battle cry, AWEA distributed the names, email addresses and phone numbers of Senators and Congresspersons from each state, en-couraging all of the 23,000 WINDPOWER attendees to contact their repre-sentatives and ask him or her to support the RES provisions in the Wax-man-Markey bill, which is now wending its way through the legislative process [ED: it’s passed now too!].

The RES – the Renewable Electricity Standard – in the original Waxman-Markey bill would have required 25% of electricity to come from renew-able sources by 2020. But despite the impressive show at WINDPOWER, the US wind industry is up against a major challenge in the months ahead.

The RES provisions have already been gutted in the committee process in the House of Representatives, and the industry is now fighting a rear-guard action to get them strengthened and restored over the coming months.

Weakening the bill hurts one of the few growing manufacturing industries in the country, weakens climate change efforts, and sends the wrong sig-nals to companies and investors who remain optimistic about the future of the sector in the US.

In a letter to lawmakers, leading wind companies voiced their concern about the lower renewable targets, stating that the US is "on the verge of losing the wind manufacturing industry to Asia and Europe", meaning that the US would miss an opportunity to capture a significant stake in what is now a US$50 billion global industry, and which will only grow in the coming years.

The US wind industry today employs more than 85,000 workers, up from 50,000 at the end of 2007. These jobs could be at risk if, for lack of domestic demand, manufacturing moved out of the USA. Leading wind companies are looking for a long-term commitment from the government to sup-port renewable energy.

According to a recent poll, 75% of American voters support high renewable energy targets. As President Obama has said, wind energy is ‘win-win; good for the environment and good for the economy’. Now let’s hope that Congress listens to the President and the voters.

Wind power opponents growing louder

As wind power becomes increasingly mainstream, it is gaining many friends but also a few foes...as this article goes to press, the first Global Wind Day is dawning all over the world with thousands of activities in over 25 countries. In North Texas, motorcyclists are ‘Riding for Wind’ as they tour wind farms in the region, and wind energy supporters are meeting up across the US at so-called Tweet-Ins organised by the industry.

In Cameroon, you can learn how to build a wind turbine, communities in Uruguay and Japan are inaugurating new turbines, and there is a kite flying competition in New Zealand. On the global level, the industry has launched a new campaign which involved downloading your own virtual wind turbine onto your computer to show your support

These grass roots activities are significant because public acceptance and support is important for sustained wind industry growth. And building grassroots acceptance is ever more important as the industry comes under attack.

In recent months, more sophisticated messages have emerged from anti-wind groups of dubious provenance from a variety of different places around the world, some of which have been picked up by mainstream media. Perhaps we are becoming a victim of our own success?

The story which got the most mileage is a study on Spain’s employment figures from an academic at King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. The study looks at Spain’s long history with renewable energy, and claims that for every new green job created, at least 2.2 jobs in other industries disappear.

The Spanish Government, as well as renewable energy and trade union spokespersons in Spain, were quick to discredit this study as flawed - and point out that the institute which conducted the study had taken money from the fossil fuel industry.

Nonetheless, Republicans in the US have jumped on the case and used the study to discredit President Obama’s enthusiasm for renewable energy as a source of jobs and economic recovery. Interestingly, the study only appeared in English (unheard of in Spanish academic circles), which gives a clue as to the sponsors as well as the target audience.

Stories like this are now emerging in Canada, Australia, the US, the UK and elsewhere. There is also a movement of people who are concerned about the health risks of living near wind turbines. A widely-cited book by an American doctor coined the term "Wind Turbine Syndrome", whose symptoms include everything from night terrors to dizziness and hearing problems.

This supposed scientific research (based on the study of 10 families) adds fuel to community activists who oppose wind power.

Along with the original opposition based on aesthetic and wildlife con-cerns, these NIMBY groups are now raising the spector of (as yet) scien-tifically unfounded health concerns to oppose wind power projects.
As installed wind capacity increases around the world, it is inevitable that the industry will come under greater scrutiny, as well as under spurious attack by front groups sponsored by incumbent fossil fuel and nuclear interests.

We need to strengthen our messaging and be more prepared than ever to make the case for wind. And this is as important with policymakers – to help to pass important legislation like the RES in the US – as it is with the public.

Taken from the July/August issue of renewable energy focus magazine.

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