Energy industry sees changes sweeping in

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More than 800 members of the American Wind Energy Association have blown into Palm Desert for their fall symposium, and the prospects for their industry with President-elect Barack Obama entering the White House in January have their turbines revving.

“What’s most exciting for people who have been in this business for years is to have a president who understands this from the get-go,” said Dana Peck, a senior development manager for enXco, a company producing both wind and solar energy.

The three-day symposium began Wednesday at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort.

Today’s keynote speaker will be retired Gen. Wesley Clark, now on the board of Emergya Wind Technologies, a company based in Amsterdam.

Industry leaders are setting their sights on providing 20 percent of energy in the United States by 2030.

Wind currently produces only 1 percent to 2 percent of the country’s energy but Christine Real de Azua, an association spokeswoman, said reaching 20 percent is “definitely feasible.”

“We have the technology,” Real de Azua said. “Last year, wind was one-third of the entire new generating capacity in the country.”

The challenges ahead, experts said, include making turbines even more cost-efficient and riding out the current economic downturn and the limits it has placed on financing for new projects.

“Wind and solar are capital intensive; they require a lot of money up front. The industry is feeling more of the credit crisis than other energy,” said Edward W. Zaelke, a lawyer in the renewable field, who is also a board member of the association.

But Zaelke said long-term prospects for wind and solar are healthy, and California — and the Coachella Valley — could be especially well-placed to profit.

“The population of the United States will grow 50 percent by 2050, with a lot of growth in the Southwest,” he said.

“If states like California continue to be leaders in (responding to) climate change, the Southwest very well could lead the economy out of recession.”

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