Energized wind energy industry rolls up sleeves for 2013-14, plans 40th anniversary next year in Las Vegas

As the WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition wound down today, nearly 10,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors started wrapping up business and heading home—ready to capitalize on the business opportunity presented by extension of the industry’s key policy incentive in the near term, and the opportunity to help craft a new long-term vision of stability for the industry.

Buoyed by a steady stream of positive industry news over the past several weeks, including new utility purchases of and solicitations for wind power, the industry appears set to add another generous helping of new generating capacity over the next two years to the 60,000 megawatts (MW) in place at the end of a record 2012. Customer enthusiasm for the benefits of the clean, affordable energy source were confirmed in the Windy City, with panels highlighting cost savings, the ability to lock in prices for decades to protect against volatile fuel prices, and, of course, the absence of any emissions. Wind energy leaders urged that each member of the industry take it upon themselves to get that message out, while corporate purchasers of wind explained why they embrace the renewable energy source.

Next year’s event will mark AWEA’s 40th anniversary, and accordingly, the industry is “going to Vegas” — for the first time ever, the site for WINDPOWER 2014 will be in Las Vegas, next May 5-8. Booth reservations are now open and were selling briskly in Chicago this week. For details, see www.windpowerexpo.org/2014.

Resonating throughout the 2013 conference were calls for industry stability. Now that American wind power is mainstream, it’s time, leaders said, to bring stability to the industry. In an inspiring address on Monday morning that set the tone of WINDPOWER 2013, EDPR Renewables North America CEO and new AWEA Board Chair Gabriel Alonso expounded on how the industry will achieve that stability. Among his five “pillars” for a strong industry, he urged that the industry strengthen its voice through increased participation in advocacy efforts.

Part of that movement toward stability lies in a new collaborative effort that was highlighted in Chicago. In the coming months, the U.S. Department of Energy will be producing a new version of the wind energy “road map” contained in the 20% Wind by 2030 Technical Report developed by the Bush Administration in 2008. The DOE initiative will be aimed at understanding opportunities and challenges associated with America’s steady progress toward a future increasingly powered by clean, affordable, homegrown energy sources like wind power.

As panelist Susan Reilly, CEO of RES Americas, noted at WINDPOWER, the industry is ahead of the pace outlined in the initial report (a fact that she called, “incredibly exciting”). Moreover, technology has improved dramatically just in the past few years—a common topic of discussion at WINDPOWER—outstripping many of the assumptions of the 2008 report.

In keeping with the newly emerging theme of industry transformation at WINDPOWER, the industry also had a chance to meet (and hear) the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) new CEO, Tom Kiernan, who starts in his new position May 28. Kiernan said that in the coming months he will be traveling around the country to meet with members and hear what their needs are, as well as their thoughts on a new vision for the industry and association.

Kiernan spent hours on the show floor and in side meetings talking with attendees about their priorities. “WINDPOWER 2013 was everything I’d heard about this wonderful annual industry town square and more,” he said. “Today I’m all the more excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work with our industry’s members, who impressed me to no end in Chicago. I very much look forward to reaching out to our membership in the coming months so we can work together in crafting a new vision for this great association and for American wind power. And I can’t wait to see everyone next year in Las Vegas for WINDPOWER 2014, if not sooner.”

Another message resonated at WINDPOWER: Crucial near-term work remains to be done as well. This year began on a positive note when the federal Production Tax Credit, U.S. wind energy’s primary policy driver, was extended for projects that start construction this year. But as has always been the case, the industry must continue to make its case for continued growth so that a long-term vision can be realized.