Opines and turbines: Aspiring wind tech reflects on the industry’s banner month

Settling into my new home in Sweetwater, Texas — wind energy (and rattlesnake) capital of North America — has been something of a return.

Though I’ve lived in Austin, Texas the past 25 years, I grew up in the town of Muenster, Texas pop. 1,400. So at 10,000, Sweetwater is what we used to refer to as “the big city.”

As a reforming Digital PR Director turned wind tech student, I still harbor a bit of an obsession with the media. No surprise, I’ve found a plethora of fodder for this weakness on my new career path in the wind industry.

In fact, I had the surreal opportunity to listen to President Obama outline his historic Clean Power Plan in a U-Haul as I trekked to the turbine dotted landscape where I will begin my career transition to wind tech.

The living here is cheap, dog friendly and complete with free cable (the only kind I watch). But that can be a problem as I have a tendency to shout at the C-Span people. It can be an issue in an apartment after 10 p.m.

Lately though, there’s been a gust of good news about wind energy.

A recently released 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Energy supports the industry’s growth and shows amazing and hard won “economies of scale” at work.

The report found that “total installed wind power capacity in the United States grew at a rate of eight percent in 2014, bringing the United States total installed capacity to nearly 66 gigawatts (GW), which ranks second in the world and meets 4.9 percent of U.S. end-use electricity demand in an average year.”

It further found that the cost of wind energy has fallen by nearly two-thirds since 2009. Simply put, as wind farm build-outs have ramped up and technology has improved, the  cost to consumers has gone down.

As explained in a recent piece by Chris Mooney in an Aug. 10 article in the Washington Post:

“Technological advancements, coupled with decreased energy consumption, have already placed the United States ahead of the Energy Department’s original 20% wind by 2030 milestones,” says Jose Zayas, head of the wind and water power technologies office at the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

“With the manufacturing capacity to produce more than 9 GW of new wind turbine components annually, the United States is poised to remain one of the world’s top producers of wind energy.”

With wind already generating over 20 percent of electricity in Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas — Iowa generating an impressive 28.5 percent of its electricity from wind in 2014 — it appears wind is ready to outperform even its proponents’ best projections.

However, this will only be possible with stable policy. Given wind energy’s cost-effective contribution to American energy independence, opposition to the renewable energy Production Tax Credit, the primary incentive for wind energy, hardly seems justified; especially when you consider the feds approach to other energy sections.

In their succinct July op-ed in The Hill, Mike Garland and Susan Reilly of AWEA attempt to set the record straight.

“This one tax credit is the primary federal incentive for wind energy, and provides initial tax relief that has allowed wind industry to scale up against mature industries that continue to get a wide variety of permanent subsidies after up to 100 years. A typical wind farm more than repays all of this short-term tax relief in local, state, and federal taxes over the life of the project.”

The industries receiving those “100-year” and going tax credits mentioned are of course no secret. In fact Garland and Reilly’s op-ed was a direct response to a previous one penned by former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), now a lobbyist for the oil industry.

Meanwhile, giving wind a tax incentive such as those that many other industries enjoy means economic development for areas such as my new home Sweetwater. In Texas, wind energy has attracted more than $26 billion in private investment and created over 17,000 jobs. I hope to be one of those workers soon!