ALBUQUERQUE, N.M — Sen. Jeff Bingaman said Wednesday the on-again, off-again nature of U.S. energy tax incentives and the uncertainty over federal spending on research and innovative technology presents a major challenge to the wind energy industry and other alternative energy industries.
Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, spoke at the opening session of the 5th Wind Turbine Blade Workshop sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories. The workshop, the only one in the U.S. devoted to wind turbine blade technology, has been held on even-numbered years since 2004.
A major focus of Sandia’s program has been blade technology, including development and demonstration of innovations in its Wind Energy program, funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). The three-day workshop, which attracted about 260 participants, includes sessions on blade research and innovative design, turbine design, blade and rotor testing, manufacturing and inspection, distributed wind technology and water power.
Bingaman said a diversity of U.S. energy sources at a reasonable price equals security in the nation’s energy supply and allows it to fight global warming.
“It’s clearly in our interests to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
He also said the transition of the national and world economies to renewable energy holds the promise of creating jobs in everything from research to manufacturing to installation.
“We need some of these jobs to be American jobs, and that’s why it is important for us to keep this as part of our national policy,” Bingaman said.
But market forces are working against alternative energy in these days of cheap natural gas and developing shale gas, he said.
The senator, who is retiring at the end of the year, devoted much of his speech to reviewing how the federal government supports energy policy through spending, tax incentives and regulations. He said it’s been difficult getting consensus in Washington on how to use those powers for renewable energy.
Federal spending on alternative energy has come in the form of support for research and development, grants for innovative projects and the DOE’s promotion of knowledge-sharing, he said.
Much of federal spending on energy has been through the tax code. However, the production tax credit for wind power expires at the end of this year, Bingaman said. He added he does not expect action to extend tax credits until the lame duck session after the election as part of a larger tax policy.
“That’s not a good way to make tax policy. It does not give developers and businesses the assurance they need to make plans and investments for the long-term,” he said.
He also said some members of Congress oppose tax incentives and direct spending on clean energy because of concerns about budget deficits and opposition to government involvement in the market.
Bingaman suggested Congress could use its regulatory power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by establishing a Clean Energy Standard. He introduced a measure in March that would award tax credits to all electricity-generating technologies that exceed the carbon efficiency of current supercritical coal generation. Utilities that sell electricity would acquire credits to meet the standard, which would become more rigorous over time.
A Clean Energy Standard would give industry incentives and a long-term signal to pursue technology such as that focused on in the workshop, Bingaman said. But he acknowledged his bill does not have the support to pass.
Still, he said, the nation needs a consistent, sustained energy policy. During a question-and-answer session, he pointed out the U.S. has competitors in alternative energy technologies, including China, which has “positioned itself and made it its business to be a world leader in deploying these technologies.”
Daniel Laird, Sandia’s manager of water power and offshore wind energy technologies, said China is the top market for wind energy, followed by the United States. China and India together, he said, account for 50 percent of the market. And while a Danish company remains the top manufacturer of wind turbines, four Chinese companies are in the top 10, he said.
Wind energy accounted for nearly 3 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. last year. Laird joked it finally has its own slice of a pie chart instead of being lumped in with other renewable energy.
Mark Higgins, chief operating officer of the Wind & Water Program in the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, who spoke before Bingaman, said the department “believes wind is the cornerstone to achieving deployable and efficient and cheap renewable energy.”
The DOE’s role includes spending on renovation, bringing researchers together, offering test platforms, validating systems to increase investor certainty, creating a database of unbiased reports and leveraging international cooperation with overseas laboratories, Higgins said.
He said the department’s wind program is focusing on land-based systems, through improved turbines; off-shore developments, largely deep-water wind turbines he said are a generation or two down the road; and distributed systems, small wind turbines such as those that run a pump and which add additional generation capacity without requiring more transmission lines. Higgins said the DOE also wants to leverage work done overseas on wind energy to help American industry.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.
Sandia news media contact: Sue Holmes, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 844-6362