Ten years ago wind power was not on the political or energy radar screens of the nation. Today that has all changed.
Wind will have installed more than 55,000 megawatts by the end of 2012 and produce nearly 4% of America's electricity. The last 4-years registered average growth of 7,500 megawatts per year, an annual market valued at about $15 billion, and even more this year.
The wind industry has grown up, employs about 70,000 people, and has some built political muscles too. And it will need to flex those muscles, because wind's growth puts it on the radar screen and drawn attacks.
In terms of political strength, wind power is not the oil and gas industries, but it just may be stronger than the far from weak nuclear industry. Wind's strength is rooted in the turbines, leases, tax payments, manufacturers, and vendors that are spread across America. Turning turbines all across America mean that the days are long gone, when environmentalists stood alone in urging favorable policies for wind.
Indeed, a remarkable 74% of Republican congressional districts have a wind farm or wind manufacturing facility, and 81% of wind power is located in Republican districts. These local facts on the ground insure that wind power like all forms of energy enjoys supporters in both parties.
In Iowa, a key swing state in the Presidential election that gets 20% of its power from wind, the maxim that all politics is local means that the wind energy issue has caused state Republicans--Governor Branstad, Senator Grassley, and the entire Iowa Congressional delegation--to sharply disagree with Romney's plan to end the wind tax credit. www.radioiowa.com/2012/08/02/branstad-says-romney-needs-to-be-educated-about-importance-of-wind-energy-audio/. Or is it his plan?
Governor Romney was in Iowa yesterday, saying warm and fuzzy things about wind once more. The Governor embraced wind during the Iowa primary, touring a wind manufacturing company there, signing a wind blade. After Iowa, he jumped on the "Solyndra" anti-green energy, right wing bandwagon that includes the anti-wind production tax credit position. Today who knows where he will be. Notably, as a result of the production tax credit issue, a couple of top Iowa Republican wind energy businessmen have been campaigning for the President across Iowa.
Attacking wind now has political risks that include losing the support of owners of businesses, workers, landowners with leases or who want to have a wind lease, and local governments that receive significant tax revenues. That democratic feedback process impacts both parties.
The bi-partisan strength of wind energy surfaced last week, when a key senate committee passed an extension of the wind production tax credit by a strong 19-5 vote. And just this week, Harry Reid decleared that he was confident that the production tax credit would be extended by the end of the year and even possibly before the election.
The politics of wind have never been more interesting or blowing harder.