I went to the Clean & Affordable Energy Conference in Portland today and listened to a panel on the role of natural gas in the future of clean energy.
The panel included Leslie Ferron-Jones, a vice president for Vestas in Portland, as well as NW Natural CEO Gregg Kantor, Charlie Black of the Northwest Power & Conservation Council and Ralph Cavenagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
They all talked about the value of natural gas in balancing supplies of renewable wind and solar energy, and they agreed that pairing natural gas power plants with wind turbines would be a clean and viable alternative to coal-fired power plants.
But Ferron-Jones gave a bleak outlook for the renewable energy industry. Her company, which is based in Denmark with American headquarters in Portland, just announced it will be laying off an additional 3,000 employees after reporting that it lost money in the third quarter this year.
Ferron-Jones said the growth in the industry has been driven by renewable portfolio standards, or RPS, in the U.S., and that those standards have pretty much been met. A production tax credit that paid wind farm operators to produce wind power is set to expire at the end of this year. Wind power developers ramped up to meet the initial demand for turbines and now have more capacity than customers.
“We’re generally long power,” said Ferron-Jones. “We have more power than we need given the status of the economy right now. We’re also caught up on RPS. This is a tough, tough time to be in the renewable business. It’s not easy. It’s not cozy. This is a very difficult time.”