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2012 WOW Gala Highlights

By Kelley Welf on December 21, 2012

Highlights from the WOW Gala

Oh, what a night!  (Are you channeling that great song by The Four Seasons?)

A crowd of roughly 350 people enjoyed an incredible evening at the Holiday Inn Merchandise Mart on a date that will occur only once in a century – 12/12/12. 

Mayor34712_D110-webThe evening began with a Mayor’s Reception, sponsored by Invenergy, for nearly 200 highly influential members of the wind industry, state legislators from Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, and leaders from the non-profit clean energy sector. After a short introduction by Beth Soholt and Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky, Former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke briefly to the packed room.  He said, “I am proud that Chicago has the most wind companies anywhere in the country.” He also touted the city's recent electric aggregation contract that eliminates coal from the local energy mix, and highlighted the advanced battery research center recently awarded to nearby Argonne National Lab. Mayor Emanuel also looked ahead and said, “Within the next six years, we’re going to have energy independence.  Renewables have to be part of the discussion.”

During the program portion of the event, WOW Executive Director Beth Soholt gave a warm welcome to the audience and acknowledged the many sponsors, board members and special guests in attendance.  She also explained WOW’s mission and highlighted several key achievements over the years, particularly the approval of broad cost allocation of the 17 MVP transmission lines approved by MISO last year.

Lehner34712_D298-webNRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner then addressed the audience emphatically stating that, “achieving the full potential of wind energy in the Midwest, the country and the world could not be a higher priority for NRDC.” He praised Wind on the Wires for its ability to bring organizations like NRDC together with leading wind developers and others to tackle the complicated issues associated with bringing wind energy to market. “WOW helps ensure that environmental advocates and wind industry leaders are not working at cross purposes,” he said.   “WOW provides a critical forum for resolving issues and coordinating our advocacy to move wind power forward expeditiously.”   Lehner also took the opportunity to urge Illinois policymakers to update the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to reconcile the law with the current market structure.  “Due to the dramatic changes in the way consumers are buying electricity, the RPS is not fulfilling that goal and is in fact become a tool for proving revenue to wind farms in distant states.  That’s not what anyone intended and a relatively straightforward fix could allow the RPS to serve its intended purpose.  We hope that folks will leave here tonight resolved to work together toward that end.”   He closed his remarks with a push for the Production Tax Credit and showed a new video produced by the Pew environment group. 

Kate34712_D321-webOver dinner, Kate O’Hair, Director of the Mid-continental Region of EDF Renewable Energy, took the stage and gave a wind energy business perspective.  She said that EDF Renewable Energy, formerly enXco, has delivered more than 4.5 GW of renewable energy projects, with more than 1500 MW in the Midwest.  She also expressed pride that their work has contributed hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic development to rural Midwestern communities.  Ms. O’Hair went on to explain how the lack of long term policies is creating market uncertainty thereby causing a once vibrant industry to “creep to a halt.”  But, all is not lost. “Through pioneers like Wind on the Wires and advocates like you here tonight, we have the strength and the voice to look beyond these obstacles,” said O’Hair.  Looking ahead, O’Hair encouraged the audience to strike a balance between the challenges and advantages of Midwestern wind energy and to not lose sight of our mission.  “Our future and our success will be driven by creative, out of the box, innovative initiatives.  Our focus must not only be on where the opportunities exist today, but where they will arise in the next few years. We must all be the catalyst for new opportunities and long term sustainable growth as we reach toward our 50,000 and maybe even 100,000 MW goal.”

After dinner, President Clinton joined the WOW guests and spoke about wind energy and the need for a national grid to support the vast wind resources in this country. “… it’s just appalling that we got 300,000 megawatts of wind energy projects all dressed up and ready to go to the prom and can’t find a connection,” he said.   

Clinton-cropped34712_D346-webThe President enlightened the audience on a number of topics ranging from what to worry about concerning the fiscal cliff to climate change.  He stressed several times the importance of building alliances, the way Wind on the Wires has done over the past 10 years to work through “all the boring stuff that makes the big beautiful stuff happen, the barriers to modernizing the grid, getting the public sectors and the private sectors together … .” He also encouraged those in attendance to think about our contribution to society not just in terms of adding megawatts to the grid, or “saving us from the worse consequences of climate change,” but rather that we are, “creating a 21st century economy … .  You represent the possibilities of the future.”

In closing, the President talked about making progress in this [wind energy, transmission and environmental] work is like rolling rocks up steep hills.  He also praised Wind on the Wires for doing “an amazing amount of good.  You have done it doing stuff that … never makes it to the headlines.” 

Beth-Clinton34712_D413-webDuring the Q&A, Beth Soholt asked the President to talk about ways to effectively convey the urgency and need to significantly reduce carbon.  The President recommends that we, the wind industry and clean energy advocates, talk about carbon reduction and “not just the downside of not doing it, but the economic necessity of doing it.”  Using Hurricane Sandy as an example, President Clinton suggests that the job creation and economic development surrounding clean energy can be the argument for working to mitigate climate change.

On the subject of a national energy policy, President Clinton sees three options.  First, although he thinks it unlikely to get passed, he recommended designing our own carbon tax.  Second, he suggested trying to create a more economically attractive cap and trade bill.  And, finally, the recommendation he feels is most likely to succeed, is to put “meat on the bones” of President Obama’s stated “all of the above” energy policy.  Point out, he said, that you can’t have an all of the above strategy unless you have a plan with financing and a deadline to build a national electrical grid.  “If you really want to have a national energy policy, you have to do a policy version of what you’ve been doing for nine years.”

As for messaging, the President believes we need to spread the word about the benefits Iowans and Minnesotans who have high concentrations of wind development have received from wind – the jobs, lower electricity rates, and the contribution wind has made to a healthier future – and spread the word far and wide, making sure to reach the people outside our normal constituency.  Not everyone knows the benefits.  It’s our job to tell them.

See more photos from the event here.

Tags:  clinton, gala
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