Rules 'to spark US energy debate'

Perhaps the most important impact from today’s Environmental Protection Agency announcement will be the sparking of a national conversation about future US energy supplies, a conversation renewables are poised to win, says Peter Kelley, the American Wind Energy Association’s vice president for public affairs.

There will be “a lot sound and fury” from politicians on the issue in the run-up to November’s mid-term Congressional elections, but Kelley doubts that Republicans will be able to water down the EPA's proposal, which is strongly backed by President Barack Obama.

And in spite of the political furor, he does not expect the EPA debate to negatively impact the survival chances of the Production Tax Credit – which he believes will be extended “by next year”, regardless of the outcome of November's elections.

For renewables, many of the practical implications of the EPA regulations will not begin to take shape for several years, with the first deadline set for 2020. “It will be a gradual process of bringing the economy on line with this,” Kelley tells Recharge.

But having an emissions-reduction roadmap out to 2030 will undoubtedly be helpful to the wind sector. Even more importantly, he says, the country and its lawmakers will now begin to talk seriously about energy and climate issues.

Claiming that a “supermajority” of Americans support the EPA’s clean-air regulations, Kelley says that today’s announcement “gives us the opportunity to have that conversation – and it’s [coming] right in the middle of a Congressional election”.

“Everybody’s going to be talking about this over the summer. They’ve been talking about Obamacare, but now they’re going to be talking about clean-air standards.”

Most policymakers and the public are still judging wind energy based on “outdated information”. But new figures will soon be published showing that the cost of wind power has decreased by 50% over the past five years, Kelley says.

“We have a huge job as an industry to get the news out about how affordable we are,” he says, adding that the EPA's proposal represents “a responsibility as well as an opportunity” for renewables.