Last Wednesday was an important day for American wind power at the federal level. Over 160 members of the U.S. wind industry met with almost 250 House and Senate legislators and their staffs. That’s like meeting with nearly half of all of Congress.
How did 160 people accomplish this impressive feat? By participating in Wind Power on Capitol Hill (WPOCH) 2019, of course!
AWEA’s annual fly-in is a 1.5-day event that gives wind workers the chance to tell legislators about wind power and the difference it makes in people’s lives. It also provides an opportunity to educate lawmakers about what’s needed to propel American wind power forward. This year’s attendees included wind farm owners and operators, project developers, manufacturers, students, educators, embassy officials, and construction companies.
Attendees started out with an advocacy training day on March 5th, which armed them with the tools they’d need on Capitol Hill the next day. Not only did participants receive an overview of the 116th Congress and wind energy market update, hone their social media skills, and learn best practices for engaging with a Hill audience, they also heard from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD-05).
Senator Gardner and Congressman Hoyer excited the crowd with their remarks, offered us advice for our forthcoming advocacy, and highlighted the critical role American wind power plays in creating a strong economy and clean future. They even stuck around to take a few questions from attendees while I racked up my step-count, running around the room with the microphone!
However, the excitement went up a big notch the next day as attendees prepared to meet with Congress. While a few turbine technicians from Indiana gave me a hard time for complaining about the weather, it was COLD. Nevertheless, we persevered—despite the 15-20-minute walk from the conference location to Capitol Hill, and the long lines outside of House and Senate buildings to get inside, everyone was in high spirits. The energy was palpable.
After snagging some snazzy pics in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, I made my way over to the Russell Senate Office Building to meet with a few staffers who work Senator Cory Gardner. We had a great conversation about important wind policy priorities, like a storage investment tax credit (ITC) and the importance of adequately funding the Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office.
The policy conversations were important, but the biggest impact on both lawmakers and myself came from the personal stories told by advocates who live and work in wind-rich communities across the country.
In one of my meetings, a military veteran shared his story about becoming a wind technician. He shared how the skills he learned in the armed forces allowed him to transition smoothly to employment on a wind farm, helping him secure a high-quality job that let him to stay in his hometown after finishing active duty. From another conference attendee, I learned that some military bases even host wind technician training programs on-site, because the military has identified the wind industry as a significant employment opportunity for former military personnel.
WPOCH attendees also explained that wind projects make a real difference for family farms across the country. One attendee noted that because of the land lease payments his family members have received from hosting turbines, they’ve been able to weather the brunt of volatile farming conditions and keep the farm in the family.
Hearing these stories was the most valuable part of my experience. As someone that works in D.C., it’s easy to get caught in the “Beltway bubble” and forget that my job is part of something much bigger, something that extends into every state and thousands of communities across the nation. Hearing from the people who often don’t often travel to DC gave me renewed excitement to do my job and support AWEA’s mission to keep growing wind. That will help farmers continue farming, increases the number of employed veterans, and move us towards a more sustainable future.
The day closed with an evening reception held in the Hart Senate Office Building, overlooking the sunset and the National Mall. We were joined by a handful of House and Senate Members of Congress, who spoke to our crowd about the important work the advocates had done that day to move the industry forward. They conveyed their commitment to a future that relies more heavily on clean energy technologies.
After the reception ended, I looked around the room. Things were finally quiet, the sun had set, and months of planning finally came to fruition. I breathed a great sigh of relief knowing the conference and advocacy day had finally finished. More than feeling relieved, I was proud, hopeful, and encouraged. Handfuls of attendees had never met with their federal legislators. Before the conference, they were nervous to engage with their lawmakers and had no idea what to expect. By the end of the advocacy day, all attendees engaged with anywhere between five and eight congressional offices. It was clear how accomplished everyone felt and how much a difference everyone knew they had made.
After going through my first Wind Power on Capitol Hill, it’s impossible to not be excited for the future of wind power in America—and of course, next year’s Wind Power on Capitol Hill!