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At Windpower 2012, the annual conference of the American Wind Energy Association, the industry's major challenge is apparent everywhere: from the General Session, to the sidehalls, to the breakout sessions. The wind power industry, despite tremendous growth, is still entirely dependant on a hodgepodge of federal support programmes for it's financial survival. Chief among these is the Production Tax Credit (PTC), due to expire by the end of the year.

In her keynote speech, CEO Denise Bode emphasised the need for certainty in order for orders to be placed, construction and production to be planned and to start, and jobs to be held. The general consensus seemed to be that the extension of the PTC will eventually be passed, probably in the lame-duck session following the
November elections. However, that leaves a significant period of uncertainty for the entire industry, which generally operates on at least 18 to 24 month timeframes, and thus is unable to plan pretty much anything going into 2013.

In fact, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback predicted a four-year phase out of the PTC, favouring maintaining current funding levels until 2015, and then leveling off over several years, because the industry is rapidly gaining in its efficiencies and technologies. However, he, like many industry representatives here are very worried about the cliff coming in 2013. Kansas, for example, has experienced over $3 billion in investment in 2012 alone, but so far for 2012, there is none.

There are, of course, alternatives. The very public collapse of Solyndra has left solutions like the 1603 cash grant programmes in tatters, which is especially difficult for smaller companies looking to invest in less conventional projects. A recent op-ed in the New York Times emphasised real estate investment trusts and master limited partnerships as viable alternatives. However, the impression here is that most industry leaders are still pining for the PTC, regardless of the uncertainty it provides, especially if it is only extended another year.

In this context, it is curious that the industry hasn't embraced online media in a more comprehensive form. If it's goals are to shore up support for a 'no-brainer' law that nevertheless is struggling to be passed, maybe wind energy advocates need to consider campaigns similar to the ones Wikipedia & Co waged against SOPA & PIPA, which effectively killed laws that previously looked almost certain to be passed, in an incredibly short period of time. Social networking as advocacy has exploded for many sectors, and wind power executives would be wise to consider it for their own purposes.