In three months the US presidency of Barack Obama will be over.
And, in three weeks' time, we are planning to stay up all night to see if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the right to take over.
Those in the US wind industry will hope that Obama’s influence on energy will remain after he is gone, via his Clean Power Plan. The US Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the plan in August 2015 to encourage states to reduce their carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. It is due to come into force in 2020.
The wind sector is looking to the plan for long-term certainty. The five-year extension of the wind production tax credit in December 2015, to run until the end of 2019, has given the industry certainty over incentive levels until the end of this decade.
While the PTC extension includes a gradual reduction of support, it has also given developers the confidence to build schemes and enables manufacturers to invest heavily in R&D.
The Clean Power Plan is expected to continue this certainty when the PTC stops, as long as it survives an ongoing court battle.
Twenty-seven states and a host of other groups have challenged the plan because they say it oversteps the limits of the regulatory authority granted to the US Government by the Clean Air Act. In February, the Supreme Court put the plan on hold pending the result of this legal battle.
The battle reached a further landmark last month.
On 27 September, the US Court of Appeals heard oral arguments about the plan, and it will be tough for the nine judges to reach a verdict. The plan would be one of the most expensive pieces of regulation imposed on the US energy industry, and the February decision was made on just a 5-4 majority. The plan could finally be approved or rejected on a similar tight margin.
And a tight margin like that means the court case is likely to keep rumbling on. Even if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court, court action could be over by 2018, but we should never underestimate the power of objectors to keep the fight going to delay regulations. The fact that the Clean Power Plan cannot come into action when the court case is ongoing can only embolden these objectors.
And, unsurprisingly, the incoming president will play an important role too. Clinton said she would protect the plan whereas Trump would scrap it. Well, at least it’s a clear distinction.
If the plan came into force then it would be good news for the wind industry. It would enshrine the commitment in the US to make its energy system cleaner, and that will open up opportunities for new wind developments, as well as sources like solar.
But what if the plan doesn’t happen?
In our view, it would not be the end of the road for wind's strong growth, as long as the industry takes the right steps in the coming years. The nation is experiencing a wind development boom as companies are able to keep benefitting from the full rate of the PTC. If this boom is to continue in the years to 2020 and beyond then firms will need to keep reducing the cost of wind power.
General Electric has said that its €1.5bn acquisition of LM Wind Power would help it to reduce the costs of turbines faster. This is because it will have LM’s blade tech in-house, which gives it faster cost-cutting potential than if the pair kept operating as separate companies. Other manufacturers in the US, Europe and elsewhere are also focusing on this crucial goal.
We do not expect the industry in the US to stand still. The PTC extension has given the industry a golden opportunity to build more, push down costs and end up making wind energy even
more economically competitive than it is now.
Getting the Clean Power Plan in place from 2020 is important – but, as with any regulation, the industry would be very unwise to pin their hopes on it. We could still get President Trump.
The Irish Government has unveiled changes to its second offshore wind tender that the industry said have created “massive levels of uncertainty”. We look at what this means for the up-to-80GW of offshore wind projects in development in Irish waters.