On Wind, Obama Sees A Clean Energy Winner

A funny thing happened on the way to Solyndra becoming the dominant clean energy issue of the 2012 presidential campaign: It got blown away.

The talk now is all about wind power. What a stunning turn of events. The Obama campaign ought to send a thank-you note to the Romney campaign, in appreciation for ham-handedly coming out against the production tax credit for wind — in wind-friendly Iowa of all places.

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President Obama at Iowa wind farm on Tuesday (image via Obama for America)

You know the White House loves having wind power in the spotlight by the simple fact that President Obama, in Iowa himself on Tuesday, seemingly didn’t go five minutes without mentioning wind power and the PTC. He even stopped by a wind farm. (And this was one day after the Republican veep pick, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), utterly avoided the issue in a speech at the Iowa State Fair.)

Obama’s biggest applause line? It came when he mocked Mitt Romney for saying “you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”

“I don’t know if he’s actually tried that – I know he’s had other things on his car,” Obama said, referring to how the Romney family famously drove 12 hours on a vacation with Seamus, the clan’s Irish setter, in a carrier strapped to the roof of their Chevy station wagon.

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Iowa wind farms. (image via Open Energy Info)

The president did not mention the part of the story where son Tagg notes a brown liquid dripping down the back window of the station wagon and shouts, “Dad! Gross!” Instead, Obama told the crowd that if Romney “wants to learn something about wind, all he’s got to do is pay attention to what you’ve been doing here in Iowa.”

Romney could do that – or he could read the report [PDF] released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Energy and the government’s Berkeley Lab. It said that wind power in the United States is becoming cheaper and more efficient, and providing a boost to the U.S. manufacturing sector as more and more of the equipment used in wind farms is sourced domestically.

Oh, and wind was responsible for nearly one-third of the new electrical capacity that came onto the grid last year.

But the report also noted the flip side of wind in America right now: Expiration of key tax credits – as we’ve reported extensively – along with “continued low natural gas prices, modest electricity demand growth, and existing state policies … are not sufficient to support continued capacity additions at the levels witnessed in recent years.”

Taken in full, the report paints a picture of an industry peering off a very steep precipice, even as it notches some remarkable achievements.

Taller and bigger turbines have led to a steady increase in performance. With a few dips thrown in here and there, capacity factors have risen from an average of 25 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2011.

More good news: Eight of the 10 wind turbine manufacturers with the largest share of the U.S. market had at least one factory in the United States at the end of 2011, helping drive up the percentage of domestically sourced equipment used in U.S. projects from 35 percent in 2005-06 to 67 percent in 2011.

The equipment is also becoming less expensive – 20 to 30 percent less expensive than in 2008, the report said – a trend that’s beginning to nudge down project costs, with cheaper wind power the result.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply August 17, 2012

    Albert Hartman

    You know, whether or not windpower is a great idea does not hinge on the spot price of natural gas. It’s not “genius” when tight supplies make gas-fired electricity 20 cents/KWH and then “stupid” when a new gas supply comes on line and lowers electricity to 5 cents/KWH. Or “stupid” then “genius” then back to “stupid” again as the spot price for natural gas wavers from one day to the next above and below windpower’s price.

    Windpower is a technology that must be viewed by itself. In that light the technology has made marvelous strides and will continue to do so going forward. It is a viable way to power your home today, and also for the future. The technology surrounding it has not stopped improving, so we can expect to enjoy future windpower at even lower costs and better performance. What’s not to like?

    • Reply August 17, 2012


      Yep. Long-term focus is key. Thanks for the excellent comment.

      Pete Danko

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