Feed-in tariffs are the world’s most effective policy for developing wind energy said the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) this past summer.
While this isn’t news to proponents of feed-in tariffs or wind energy professionals, it is a remarkable statement by the world’s largest wind energy trade association.
The statement by the Global Wind Energy Council’s executive director Steve Sawyer at a conference in Rio de Janeiro and repeated at recent conference in Abu Dhabi sent ripples through the public interest community.
Sawyer, a former executive of Greenpeace and longtime environmental campaigner, said in his presentation that two-thirds of the wind energy capacity installed worldwide was developed with feed-in tariffs.
Moreover, Sawyer said that quota systems despite offering higher returns to developers don’t result in more rapid development of wind energy than feed-in tariffs. Quota systems, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards in North America, have been the preferred policy choice in the US.
If that wasn’t enough, Sawyer went on to say that poorly designed bidding systems create “significant financing and deployment risk” for projects.
In one presentation, GWEC’s sawyer took on two sacred cows of American renewable energy policy.
Outside the US, most countries using quota systems have moved to some form of feed-in tariff policy, including Italy and onetime quota proponent Great Britain.
It was in part the conflict between supporters of quota systems and those of feed-in tariffs and the community ownership that they enable that led to the split in the world wind energy community leading to GWEC’s formation.
More than a decade ago proponents of feed-in tariffs were alarmed by talk within the wind industry that quota systems were the policy of the future because they better embodied neoliberal economic theory than more prosaic feed-in tariffs. This philosophy so concerned some wind energy advocates that they formed the World Wind Energy Association as a result. Subsequently, quota proponents formed GWEC.
With Sawyer’s comments at two recent international conferences, the debate over which policy is better at developing wind energy has now come full circle.