The Age of Windustry

Day one of the Windpower 2007 conference has come to an end, and having just
rubbed elbows with something like 6,000 attendees, 400-plus exhibitors and
national legislators and policymakers from around the country, I thought I’d
try to make sense of it all. The confab
was put on by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and heavily
attended by many of folk who belong to it: wind energy producers,
manufacturers who produce things like wind turbines, poles, and transmission
lines and wind outreach and education organizations. The conference features
tons of panels, discussions and presentations, but much of the talk at this
year’s Windpower focused on just a few issues: 

  • A lot of people -­ and not just wind industry representatives, either ­-
    believe that wind energy is and will remain an increasingly crucial part of
    our national renewable energy portfolio. No one had anything particularly
    negative to say about nuclear or other non-c02-emitting power generation
    technologies, but all agreed that of those other options, none were as ready
    as wind power was to step up to the plate and work. (It takes
    years and years to bring a nuclear power plant online, for instance, and not
    nearly as long to build and permit wind turbines). The wind industry feels
    that its golden moment is now.
  • The AWEA has set a really tough goal for itself and for the wind industry:
    to produce 20% of the U.S.’ power by the year 2020. As good as that sounds,
    no one really knows how it’s going to be accomplished. Panelist Bob
    Lukefahr, of BP¹s alternative fuels division, stressed the challenges: It
    will require "technology we haven’t invented yet," he said, and entails "political and economic complexity this business has never faced before."
    For starters, they’re going to have to figure out how to deliver
    all that energy; even if we had the turbines to do it right now, it would
    cost at least $60 billion to build the transmission lines to get that power
    onto the country’s grid, according to AWEA President Randall Swisher.
  • The future of the wind industry depends on the White House, and if the
    next few presidents we have aren’t wind-friendly, wind will stay small for
    the long haul.

The good news is, there are plenty of states out there interested in having
the wind industry set up shop in their regions. At Monday’s confab alone,
the mayor of Los Angeles and the governors of Montana and Iowa made nice to
the assembled windustryites, and at least one congressman (D.C.’s own Jerry
McNerney) and a senator (Tom Daschle) lent their support to the cause as a
whole. In short, the industry is booming, consumer interest in renewable
energy has never been higher, and the future ­ depending in part on what
happens in the 2008 election ­ looks bright.