The Great Debate
Anne Mudge, co-chair of the Renewable Energy and Climate Change practice group, participated in a virtual roundtable hosted by Power and Energy Solutions' North American Windpower. The interview was published in the June 2012 issue and included comments from leaders in the wind energy industry. Anne provided responses to questions about some of the most pressing issues facing the wind energy today:
Let's begin by taking a look at 2012. Rich Glick, vice president of government affairs for Iberdrola Renewables, has predicted that there would be "close to zero" megawatts of wind power built in the U.S. in 2013 if the tax credit isn't extended soon. What's your take on this crisis?
Until Congress decides whether to extend or axe the PTC altogether, most wind developers are in a state of paralysis on new projects. The main action in 2012 for wind developers will be getting approval for the last few projects that were not already approved in 2011 so that they can commence construction this spring. Construction starts in the next few months are critical to qualifying for the tax credit which requires commencement of commercial operation by the end of 2012. The first part of 2012 will include developers finishing up final permitting requirements with local, state and federal agencies as well as certain financing activities to allowconstruction. Developers will likely also continue to nudge along already filed and pending development applications but without commitment of large amounts of resources. 2012 is highly unlikely to see many new wind applications until the fate of the PTC is resolved.
Siting from your perspective, what will offer the greatest advances in the developments? Improved finance? Government backing?
Ensuring a market for renewable energy through a federal renewable portfolio standard would offer a huge advance for wind power in North America. California's RPS (formerly 20%, now 33%) has been very successful in supporting strong wind development in 2010 and 2011. Governor Brown has talked of increasing California's RPS to 40%. Equipment development that would allow development of wind power at lower wind speeds than would currently support utility scale wind projects would open up more areas for wind power.
Is enough being done by the industry to communicate with those who challenge wind farm proposals? Could the industry do more to educate the public on the local benefits of wind energy?
At the project level, most developers do a good job of communicating the benefits of wind energy to the community. In particular, it is now common for wind developers to prepare economic impactreports showing the significant benefits of to local government of property tax revenues, job creation, multiplier effects, as well as private royalty payments to local landowners. Particularly during the economic downturn, large wind projects have been effectively marketed as local stimulus packages. Wind developers have also forged good working relationships with many environmental advocacy groups who share a common goal of wanting to reduce greenhouse gases, provide alternatives to fossil fuel-generated energy and foster energy independence. There will always be individuals and certain groups who oppose wind energy development based on aesthetic and noise issues. Early consultation can help but cannot always overcome such opposition. Developers should continue to site turbines to minimize impacts to the maximize extent feasible, consistent with optimizing capacity.
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