Wind energy: Leaders at WINDPOWER 2012, PTC extension needed now

Wind energy is a powerful economic force that can create more jobs for America, said an A-list lineup of business and policy leaders in this morning’s General Session at the AWEA WINDPOWER 2012 Conference & Exhibition.

WINDPOWER 2012, which got underway yesterday with the first round of educational programming and the opening of the vast exhibition, is now going full throttle, propelled by a dynamic opening session this morning that featured Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) as well as Heather Zichal, President Obama’s chief advisor on energy and environmental policy issues.

Setting the festivities in motion was AWEA CEO Denise Bode, who spoke of wind power’s ability to create jobs and the challenges it faces in doing so—specifically the uncertainty surrounding the pending expiration at the end of the year of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy. Already the industry is being affected by the uncertainty, and wind power advocates are working hard to get the PTC extended as soon as possible. A recent study found that extending the PTC will allow the industry to grow to 100,000 jobs in just four years, while an expiration will cause the loss of 37,000 jobs.

“The PTC enjoys the highest level of bipartisan support of any energy policy, which is something to be proud of, especially in a Congress that is more divided today than any in memory,” Bode told the WINDPOWER audience.

Each of the policy leaders provided unique perspectives on how wind power is good for America. Project development is surging ahead in Brownback’s wind-rich Kansas, and, as a result, the state has attracted wind power manufacturing, including turbine producer Siemens, which has opened a plant in Hutchinson.

Wind power, said Brownback, is having a profound impact on his state, and its economic impact is clear, with 1,400 megawatts (MW) scheduled to be installed just this year. “My state, we live it, we see it coming full speed,” he said, underscoring that passage of a PTC extension is crucial. Allowing wind power to keep creating jobs and generating economic activity “is important for us, and I think it’s important for the country,” he said.

Arkansas, too, has attracted its own share of wind power manufacturing supply-chain companies. “We’re all about wind energy, and I hope the rest of the country is, too,” said Beebe. “America needs to be energy independent.”

Like Bode, Beebe noted that wind power is bipartisan, with the PTC garnering the support of the National Governors Association. “My colleagues are on record, Republicans and Democrats alike … so let’s get it done,” he said.

Also like Bode, he highlighted how, thanks to wind power’s technology improvements that now allow taller, more efficient turbines to tap lower wind speeds, regions of the country like the Southeast once considered to have a marginal wind resource are now drawing the interest of developers.

Zichal’s presence was also notable given that just in the last two weeks the Obama administration has launched a push to get the PTC passed, making it part of a “To-Do” list with which the President has challenged Congress.

“Congress should extend these tax credits, and they should do it now,” said Zichal.

Giving a warm welcome to WINDPOWER attendees was business icon and Atlanta resident Ted Turner, whose company Turner Enterprises has partnered on renewable energy projects and is a member of the American Wind Energy Association. “Now is the time to focus on renewable, clean energy,” Turner told a receptive audience.

Doing so would certainly be good for America’s economy. In her address, Bode acknowledged the challenging times many wind power industry supply chain companies are already experiencing because of the PTC uncertainty. “I know that these are difficult days for many businesses in our industry, especially in our supply chain and manufacturing sectors,” she said. “We know that job losses in well-established wind energy companies are occurring throughout the U.S. We are aware of the difficult manufacturing production decisions that are currently underway. And we are very concerned that newly proposed wind facilities are being shelved.”

With that, Bode made a call to action that both governors later echoed. “That is why we need to continue to speak loud and clear to Congress,” she said. “There is no doubt that the American people are behind us.”

Action continues Tuesday

The industry dialogue continues through this afternoon at concurrent sessions, on the tradeshow floor, and in seemingly every nook of the sprawling Georgia World Congress Center. And Tuesday, the morning General Session (8:30 a.m.) brings another strong lineup of speakers and panelists. Karl Rove (former senior advisor to President George W. Bush) and Robert Gibbs (former Press Secretary and advisor to President Obama) will share the stage, exemplifying the bipartisan support the wind turbines industry has earned and highlighting the opportunity for common ground our industry offers.

In addition to the exchange between famous partisans Rove and Gibbs, Tuesday’s general session will zero back in on the business of wind farm. Moderating the “Wind Industry Leaders Panel Discussion” will be Tom Carnahan, president of project developer Wind Capital Group and AWEA board chair, who will guide a dynamic discussion on the front-of-mind issues the wind turbines industry faces.

Just a few of the topics on the docket for discussion: the cost of wind energy, the domestic supply chain, and project finance. Speaking on these topics will be Mark Albenze, CEO, Wind Power Americas, Siemens Energy; Jan Blittersdorf, president and CEO of NRG Systems, Inc.; Jorge Calvet, chairman of Gamesa; James King, senior vice president and head of structured finance Americas, BayernLB; and Steve Lockard, president and CEO of TPI Composites, Inc.

All corners of the Georgia World Congress Center will continue to buzz with activity this week. The always-vibrant KidWind competition will showcase student-built wind turbines through testing in a wind tunnel, while the members of the press will want to take in media availabilities both following the General Session (10:30 a.m.) as well as one being conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (6 p.m.) Both availabilities are in room B203 (media only; for dial-in details, please RSVP to Jay Shepley (