Two thoughts on AWEA Chicago 2009

This blogger attended the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual event in Chicago. Some 20,000 people reportedly attended. Over 1000 exhibitors were pitching a solution for every (and I mean every) element of the wind power equation. Truly an impressive sight.

I am left with two thoughts. First is a concern whether the extraordinary enthusiasm is part of a growing bubble that inevitably will burst or, rather,  illustrative of an authentic and emerging attitudinal shift, the end result of which would make renewables in general and wind in particular part of the mainstream vernacular. As a veteran of two bursting bubbles (telecom and mortgage lending) I feel cautious.

Second is in regard to that potential paradigmatic shift. One panel of leading industry executives (Vic Abate-GE, Ditlev Engel-Vestas, Declan Flanagan- E.On, Michael Polsky-Invenergy LLC and even Gen. (ret.) Wesley Clark-now of Emergya Wind Technologies) stressed that the U.S. needs policy changes to reach goals (e.g., 20 percent wind by 2030) commonly discussed in the industry. That panel was followed by an interview of Boone Pickens.

While Mr. Pickens certainly has his millions of dollars, he nevertheless possesses a down home appeal, which has helped his transformational natural gas/wind energy Pickens Plan to attract millions of adherents. If wind is to become a power generation source adopted by the mainstream, the industry will need more like Mr. Pickens – a non-preacher who can explain its appeal in readily understandable terms.

Pickens Plan and Texas transmission

While this blog is dedicated primarily to wind energy developments in New York state, important events do happen elsewhere that impact the wind industry in New York and nationwide. Case in point — the great state of Texas. Two items of recent note.

Pickens Plan

The first is the plan recently proposed by oil (and now wind?) magnate T. Boone Pickens (the Pickens Plan) to a) take the natural gas used to produce electricity in the United States and redirect it as an alternative energy source for transportation and b) use wind power to make up the difference for electricity production.  He’s not just “all hat and no cattle” as they might say in Texas. Pickens is developing in the Texas panhandle what is being reported as the world’s largest wind farm.

Texas transmission

The second is the recent decision by the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) to approve a nearly $5 billion plan to build out the transmission capacity (more than 18 gigawatts) necessary to deliver Texas wind power from the remote source areas to the cities consuming the power. Everyone is in agreement, in New York and Texas and in between, that updated transmission facilities are essential to allow wind power to make a sustained, significant contribution to energy production. Texas is now doing something about it.