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Community wind power: a vision of the future?

John Mitola, President of community-based development leader Juhl Wind Inc. speaks to PES about the future for both the community-based sector the wider industry. He shares his views on the problems facing wind power, and how community-scale projects can avoid some of the issues hampering future development.

One common trait all of us in the community wind sector share is “flexibility.” Given a future energy industry driven by significant prevailing trends, flexibility and ingenuity will be required at a level that we have perhaps not seen in the history of the wind power business. While the energy industry has always played a game of cat and mouse with the larger economy – trying to guess at demand curves and yet having to react to real life data – the 2008 recession has had an unprecedented impact on this balance. The recession has flattened demand growth in some areas, reduced demand in others and has led to a reduction in energy consumption in many of our largest regions.

Given the impact of the recession, the larger electric industry has reached a point where it must take a “deep breath” and evaluate where the right resource mix needs to be for both the near-term and long-term future of its energy model. And, this assessment is being conducted at a time when many utilities still face Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirements in the face of a wholesale power market that is seeing historically low prices. So, this assessment (or call it a continuous, re-assessment) has resulted in a short-term pullback in utility Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). All of this has created a rather uncertain time for the wind industry in general, and specifically, in the community wind sector.

Community wind has always been a very unique subset of the larger wind industry. In a larger industry led by utility conglomerates but filled with cowboys and imposters, many observers don’t even fully understand what “community wind” actually means. But for a small handful of us, we have helped create the definition – and we have continued to shape it over the years. For those of us who are leaders in community wind, we believe we can make our way in this uncertain future.


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