HEADWINDS: The wind energy boom President Barack Obama touted as key to his energy strategy has hit a wall in an election-year dispute over taxpayer support for renewable energy.
The Obama administration today advanced a proposal to lease more than 1,100 square miles of federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts for offshore wind development. The Interior Department’s draft environmental assessment proposes developing a wind energy area about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, excluding high-value fishing grounds and important sea duck habitat areas.
We won’t know until later this week who will hold the Senate energy gavel in the next Congress, but the two veteran lawmakers in line for the slot are pledging to preserve the panel’s bipartisan reputation, regardless of which party claims a majority in the upper chamber. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expect to be the chair and ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee next year, although who claims what spot will be decided by voters in a handful of states likely to determine which party controls the Senate. Republicans need to flip three Democratic seats to gain the majority if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) wins tomorrow, or four if President Obama is re-elected.
An eerie quiet has settled over the Walker Components plant, which assembles custom cables for a global wind turbine company. Orders are down from earlier in the year and one-third of its employees have been laid off this year. “At the beginning of this year we just didn’t feel we had enough time, and now we’ve got too much time on our hands,” one of its workers, 25-year-old Calvin Huddleston said. “I really thought wind would be a sustainable business.”
A new study funded by opponents of a key wind industry tax credit argues that the incentive should disappear this year because wind developers have a bright long-term future driven by state-level renewable energy policies. The report from the American Energy Alliance does little to contradict the gloomy scenario of lost jobs and sharply reduced development that wind industry backers see on the immediate horizon without an extension of the tax credit, and it was funded by a fossil-fuel-industry-backed organization that opposes even the state-level incentives that undergird wind’s future.
Michigan’s two largest electric utilities have given $11 million each to defeat Proposal 3, which would require state utilities to derive at least 25 percent of their energy from clean renewable sources by 2025. Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan has raised $24 million to defeat the measure, while Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs, which supports the measure, has raised roughly $12 million.
Plans are in the works for a potential large-scale expansion of the National Wind Technology Center, the nation’s premier wind energy research facility known for its towering, white windmills on the southern periphery of Boulder County. According to a U.S. Department of Energy letter obtained by the Daily Camera on Wednesday, federal officials envision nearly quadrupling the number of wind turbines from the 16 that currently exist at the center, installing up to 30 meteorological towers and constructing more than 60,000 square feet of laboratory and conference space.
Critics of tax credits for wind energy projects are intensifying their push to kill the incentive with a study that calls it “rent seeking” by an established industry that doesn’t need the subsidy. The conservative American Energy Alliance (AEA) unveiled the study Thursday as wind power companies — joined by allies including President Obama — are pushing Congress to renew credits that are scheduled to lapse at year’s end.
No matter who wins the White House next week, Steven Chu is widely expected to soon book a one-way ticket back to California, sparking heightened speculation over who may be tapped to take over after his embattled term leading the Department of Energy if President Obama is re-elected.
This month, utilities and regional transmission planners are issuing compliance filings on Order 1000, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s broadly scripted mandate to limber up America’s electric grid (ClimateWire, Oct. 18).