Wind Energy Needs Us to Master its Parts, their Sum, and the Whole – Luckily, We Can

“We want to do more … but there are real limits to what a state can do.” I recently attended a Wind Energy Finance and Investment Seminar in New York City, and these were among the opening words. New York State’s Chairman of Energy Policy and Finance, Richard Kauffman, was the keynote speaker, and he kicked everything off by giving us all some perspective that perhaps we needed.  He followed a brief and inspiring introduction by American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO, Tom Kiernan – and despite the contrasting energies of their comments, they complemented each other quite well.

High energy demand and great potential in its wind positions New York to lead by example (flickr/Johannes Valkama)
High energy demand and great potential in its wind resources, positions New York to lead by example (flickr/Johannes Valkama)
Using his hands, and calling on his audience to imagine what he described, Kiernan painted a picture of AWEA’s near and long-term goals.  He gestured for us to envision the need for four strong pillars – demand, cost, implementation, and political strength – to support everything the seminar was about to focus on.  With these pillars, Kiernan outlined his comprehensive strategy for making each pillar better. He was speaking to a room of people preparing to spend the next two days exchanging ideas, and knew exactly what most of us wanted: a challenge and a roadmap to the solution.

And then Richard Kauffman got on stage. He brought us in to Kiernan’s roadmap, one that seemed almost simple from afar, and walked us through some of the obstacles on the ground.  The collective deep breath that filled the room seemed to say: “right, there’s more.” Kauffman presented questions to his listeners, reminding us that we are still in the market for answers, that we are here to draft a chapter of the clean energy how-to guide. He asked tough questions:

  • Do we have the right price signals?
  • Are we adequately looking at the value of different systems and how they go together?
  • Are we thinking macro enough?

Kauffman’s reminder was an important one, and was really a perfect follow-up to Kiernan’s wide-lens vision.  New York has some of the greatest clean energy potential in the world, with tremendous opportunity in the wind off its shores. New York’s leadership wants to do more.  Certainly poised to lead by example, even New York is part of a bigger system, and everything will move faster and more efficiently if they have the support of that system.  A state can provide a sliver of demand, and a portion of incentives, but they will need help on a much larger scale to attract investors, producers, and customers to lift the wind industry to the next level.

Calling on Everyone

The most important message I took from hearing these two men speak: we need them both.  We need passionate, unwavering leaders to keep sights set on what is most important and lead the industry forward with conservation principles in mind. And we need pragmatic state officials to make sure that we don’t leave anything out.

We are facing some seriously daunting energy and environmental challenges these days.  I find it helpful to regularly remind myself that no matter how complex our solutions can seem, they are solutions, and that’s exciting.  Tom Kiernan and Richard Kauffman both know what needs to get done. They share a determination to reach a future that depends on clean, reliable, and responsible energy, and they understand that this calls for all hands on deck.

Construction of a Danish wind farm in the Baltic Sea (flickr/Bilfinger)
Construction of a Danish wind farm in the Baltic Sea demonstrates one of the many jobs supported by Europe’s wind industry (flickr/Bilfinger)
We need to do our part to harness our clean, limitless resources, and we need to demand the same of our elected officials.  States like New York – with incredible energy demand, an equally incredible supply of offshore wind power potential, and engaged local and state leadership that sees the importance of making the switch – desperately need Congress to also do its part.  Offshore wind technology is tried and true, currently generating nearly 6 gigawatts (enough to power 3.3 million homes) and 58,000 jobs in the UK, but the U.S. has yet to get a project in the water.  To reach the future that we need, one that protects wildlife and future generations from the dangerous impacts of climate change, we need to resolve everything that is keeping offshore wind power from becoming an American reality.

To start, we need to support the first-movers in the offshore wind industry. Together, Kiernan and Kauffman made it clear that reaching our clean energy goals is likely to be hard, but they both agreed that Congress could make it easier.  We need Congress to accept its part of the responsibility and pass the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act, and give an investment tax credit to those ready to be the first.

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