CHICAGO--American wind power today is strongly positioned to build on its growth and status as a mainstream energy source, particularly by capitalizing on its many benefits. That was the consensus among participants on two separate panels of wind industry leaders and prominent wind energy users in today's General Session at the WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition.
The General Session picked up where yesterday's Opening Session left off, on the need to strengthen wind power's brand and for the industry to speak as one voice. Wind industry leaders spoke of how they share the good news that the clean, affordable energy source is a win-win choice for America. The second panel of corporate purchasers of wind power – including some of the best-known brand names in American business – took the baton telling how wind energy is saving their businesses money, giving them protection against energy price spikes, and making their communities cleaner.
"The business case for wind is very compelling," said Paul Gaynor, CEO of developer First Wind. He said wind power is now saving consumers large sums in Massachusetts and Connecticut—to the tune of $1 billion and $800 million, respectively.
Oklahoma has embraced wind energy because of the "realization that they have this great wind resource, and the price is very attractive," said Kevin Walsh, managing director for renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services.
As the president and CEO of a company in wind energy's extensive supply chain, Shermco Industries' Ron Widup offered his own perspective on building political clout for wind power: "We have a three-pronged approach," he said. "Jobs, jobs, jobs."
Panelists spoke of the importance of wind, with its long-term power contracts, as fixed-cost insurance against volatile fossil fuel prices. Wind energy, Walsh said, is "a form of hedge because the fuel is free."
"It's about long-term stability," echoed Tim Rosenzweig, CEO of Goldwind USA. "It's a great way to lock in rates."
Panelists were bullish on continued improvements in the industry, driving down costs in all facets from technology to finance and improving turbine performance via more output. Turbines are already lasting longer than their 15-20 year expected lifespan, and that durability "will continue to get better and better," said Widup. That impacts everything from a project owner's bottom line to the cost of capital for new projects, panelists noted.
The result is that the industry is advancing much more rapidly than anyone might have predicted. Susan Reilly, CEO of RES Americas, highlighted the initiative announced yesterday to expand on the U.S. Department of Energy's 2007 report showing the feasibility of 20 percent wind energy by 2020. "I think that's incredibly exciting for all of us because we've achieved more than what we predicted when the study was first done," she said.
Corporate purchasers confirm benefits from the wind energy user perspective
The next panel in today's General Session's proved to be the perfect second act. After industry leaders shared their product's benefits, corporate purchasers shared their firsthand experience with the product from the user perspective, and provided hard numbers to back up the benefits.
A prime example was Bloomberg, which became the first news organization to receive the WindMade label. Lee Balin, Sustainability Manager for the company's Global Sustainability Group, reported that his company has saved $48 million since 2008, thanks to its renewable energy purchases and efficiency programs.
"We believe [in renewable energy] as a hedge against rising fuel prices in the future," said fellow panelist Greg Butler, Global Supply Chain Stewardship Director in the Office of Global Sustainability at medical technology company BD.
And, "Wind power is a very good deal for our company," said Bill Olson, Director of Motorola Mobility's Office of Sustainability and Stewardship.
For Walmart, energy is its second greatest controllable expense, said Greg Pool, Senior Manager for Renewable Energy and Emissions. Saving on renewable energy, therefore, helps the company's bottom line as well as helping the company in its goal to be a good global citizen, and fostering clean air in communities where it operates—which in itself has economic benefits for the company, he noted. Walmart has set the bold goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy worldwide.
Pool said the world's largest retailer is ready to discuss possible power contracts directly with wind project owners. "Walmart is open for business to do wind deals," Pool announced. He said the industry should look beyond utilities to diversify its customer base.
Direct purchases are also in the playbook of fellow panelist Google, which must power its electron-hungry data centers as cost-effectively as possible. The tech giant has entered into PPAs for wind and even invested in projects. It purposely seeks to locate its data centers in close proximity to renewable energy and renewable resources, said Gary Demasi, director of operations for data center location strategy and energy. The company has over 260 megawatts of wind secured through long-term contracts and utility agreements. Available wind power and utilities willing to provide it, he said, "is becoming an increasingly important part of our consideration of where we go and where we grow."