Industry aglow: Optimism running high at WINDPOWER 2016

If there was a prevailing feeling during the first day of WINDPOWER 2016, it was a sense of optimism.

There are a number of reasons for this renewed hope, starting with December’s five-year extension of the Production Tax Credit. With some of the strongest policy certainty U.S. wind has ever known, for the first time in a long time, industry leaders know the ground they’re operating on is stable. It’s easier to plan for the long term, and hopefully the days of boom-bust cycles are a thing of the past.

Another reason for hope is increasing bipartisan support. Resembling the early days of wind, support is rising on both sides of the aisle, and was on display during the ‘Politics of Wind’ panel. Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) indicated his staunch support for American wind power as a clean, reliable source of electricity that creates thousands of well-paying jobs. Meanwhile, former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) spoke about wind’s falling costs, contributions to energy independence, and importance as an emission-free energy source.

Supporters often point to wind’s falling costs, down 66 percent over the last six years. New AWEA Board Chairman and President of Vestas Americas Chris Brown, during his morning remarks, highlighted how to continue those cost declines as the leading issue facing the industry. He committed to further decreasing wind’s levelized cost of energy, noting wind is winning because it is now the most economical new energy choice in many parts of the country.

But I think what had people truly feeling the best today was that American wind power has officially arrived. It’s now a critical part of the country’s electricity mix, with enough installed to power 20 million homes. Wind was the largest source of new electricity generation in 2015. Wind turbine technician is the country’s fastest growing job. A record 88,000 men and women now call American wind power their employer.

Technical Program Chair Michelle Arenson said as much within the first few words spoken in the General Session today: “Future generations won’t know a world without wind power.”

And they surely won’t. The next generation of wind leaders is already hard at work looking for solutions to keep Chris Brown’s cost-cutting pledge. College students from across the country and as far away as Alaska were on the show floor today, testing their innovations in wind tunnels during the Department of Energy’s second Collegiate Wind Competition. Even younger, over 100 junior high and high school students participated in the KidWind Challenge.

These programs show how mainstream wind has become. In a world of options, these students chose to devote their time and attention to wind power. That’s what’s needed to carry us through the next challenge, to make our product a little better than it was yesterday. That’s #GenerationWind.

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