The wind industry will hit Congress this week in a lobbying blitz aimed at securing a national requirement that utilities generate some power from renewable sources and stopping a Senate measure that would prohibit federal grants from going to companies that manufacture outside the United States.
About 120 executives and others from companies tied to wind power will meet with lawmakers and their aides. The group is in town for its annual industry meeting but also sees the need to advocate for policies it sees as vital.
"With the right policies in place, I think we are very well positioned to get something done and get it done quickly," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. "If Congress acts with this policy in place, you'll see explosive growth."
The lobbying effort comes as lawmakers debate policies the wind industry says would slow manufacturing and kill jobs. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation that would restrict grants to companies that rely on materials manufactured in the United States and create the bulk of jobs domestically (Greenwire, March 4). That bill is a reaction to a study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University that found that 79 percent of the $2 billion in renewable energy grants doled out from the stimulus went to foreign companies, as well as a controversial proposal by a U.S.-China joint venture to apply for $450 million in funding from the stimulus.
The proposed joint venture would build a 648-megawatt wind farm in West Texas, generating enough power to light 135,000 homes. The joint venture is made up of China's Shenyang Power Group, Texas-based Cielo Wind Power and the U.S. Renewable Energy Group.
The Department of Energy's handling of stimulus spending has faced criticism from other lawmakers in addition to Schumer's bill.
Wind executives who met with reporters this morning said the talk of that legislation alone is slowing the momentum of wind manufacturing, which is planned years in advance. The executives insisted they are creating jobs in the United States but that they also need policies in place that would give the industry confidence about future prospects. The industry wants a national mandate that utilities generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources, called a renewable electricity standard.
"The renewable electricity standard has three main points to it. Job, jobs and jobs," said John Grabner, executive director of Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Co., a Ohio company that manufactures bolts and screws used in wind facilities. If there is an order from a turbine manufacturer, he said, his company places an order with a steel manufacturer. That creates jobs in the steel industry, he said, adding that his company then adds jobs.
Tax credits for renewable power have not been consistent, Bode and other said, and there has been a lack of federal aid for renewables while nuclear power and the fossil fuel industry have received years of help.
"For 25 years we've had no policy support," said Donald Furman, senior vice president of Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables Inc. Furman also is president of the American Wind Energy Association. "As a result, the manufacturing part of this business largely went overseas."
That has started to turn around, Furman said, but policy help is needed.
The wind industry over the last year has made a major lobbying push. In 2009, the industry tripled spending on influence efforts from a year earlier. The American Wind Energy Association paid $5 million for lobbying in 2009, compared with $1.7 million the previous year, the highest amount ever for the association and a sixth of the $30.1 million spent by all renewable companies combined. It came in the same year that the wind industry saw its prospects lifted by legislation.
The wind industry today ran advertisements in Politico and on the Washington newspaper's Web site, promoting its power to create jobs.
"The American wind industry provides 85,000 American jobs and has increased domestic manufacturing twelve-fold since 2004," the full-page ad says. "In fact, 40% of the new energy capacity added in each of the last two years was generated by wind, making it one of the top new sources of electricity in the U.S. Passage of comprehensive energy and climate legislation with a strong Renewable Electricity Standard would protect our industry and create 274,000 more jobs right here in America. This is a crucial moment for the future of American jobs and American leadership."
Wind executives have said assumptions about the controversial U.S.-China joint wind project are incorrect.
"The vast majority of the jobs created as a result of the 600 megawatt wind farm will be located in the United States and done by American workers," U.S. Renewable Energy Group managing partner Cappy McGarr previously said in a statement. "A minimum of 70 percent of each wind turbine in the 600-megawatt project, including the massive towers and blades, will be wholly manufactured in the United States and made entirely of American steel."
Bode and the other executives rejected the idea that their industry lacks the political muscle to counteract lobbying from coal interests and oil and gas companies. Utilities in Southeastern states, for example, argue against an aggressive renewable electricity standard because they say they lack access to wind and other renewable power sources. Many of the largest utilities in the Southeast rely heavily upon coal for power generation and that fuel is considered less expensive than generation from renewables.
The Southeast lacks wind but has access to biomass energy, Furman said. Wind is working with biomass and solar companies to push for a renewable electricity standard.
"One of the strategies is getting the facts out" that there is enough biomass in the Southeast to meet a renewable electricity standard, Furman said.
But Bode said traditional energy sources are targeting wind because they see it as a threat.
"I consider that a compliment," Bode said.
Wind executives also will be talking to lawmakers about the energy and climate legislation that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are crafting. In addition to the renewable electricity standard, the industry is lobbying for upgrades to the transmission network. Senators crafting that bill know a renewable electricity standard is essential to reducing carbon emissions, Bode said.
The climate bill that passed the House last year, H.R. 2454, included an RES requirement of 20 percent in 2021. There are other bills that also contain the national mandate, including a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee bill, which has an RES that peaks at 15 percent in 2021.