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Walking the Walk

Eco-Developer Pat Wood III explains how competitive markets are good for green business.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2007

the balancing markets, regional transmission planning, the push for RTOs. All of those things are really the minimum you need to make wind work.

Of course, economics is what it is ultimately about. You can adopt policies and government programs, but the bottom line is that you have to have a cost-effective product. And that’s what happened. Gas has gone up [in price]. Coal has gone up. No new nukes are being built yet. The markets are getting tight. Demand is going up. So, the price point for wind is looking pretty good.

Fortnightly: How do you make wind more viable?

Wood: It’s not hard for it to be viable if you design a market right. Every type of power supply should have a shot at making it if the customers want it. And, you know, customers want wind. You need to take all the obstacles out of the way for customers and suppliers to come together, whether that be for power from West Virginia coal, or Western wind, or San Juan basin gas, or for solar on customers’ rooftops. Customers should have a wide array of choices.

Now, not every state gives customers the retail freedom that Texas and other states do. But as a practical matter, if customers have that kind of access to the market in electricity, I think we will have a much more rational and better system.

Fortnightly: What was it about renewables specifically that interested you when you left the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission?

Wood: Before I walked out of FERC, the last official trip I took was to SCE&G’s re-dedication of the Saluda Dam on Lake Murray, which is right up the river from Columbia, S.C. It was a great day, a beautiful, hot day. I brought my oldest son there with me. Before they cut the ribbon, I praised the construction workers, saying, “Governments will come and go, republics will rise and fall, but this great edifice will still be here a millennium from now. … This project that you men and women built will make a big difference for a long, long time.”

Looking back now, I realize that trip was a fortuitous event. I walked out of my FERC office a week later and, driving home to Texas, I told [my wife] Kathleen that I want to get infrastructure built. I’ve talked it good for 10 years; now it’s time to walk it. Make it happen. So, I’m focusing on clean competitive power generation, independent transmission, and natural-gas infrastructure. Those were the things that I made a mark on in my professional career and know a lot about, and things that I’m proud to tell my sons about.

Fortnightly: What is your role at Airtricity? Do you focus specifically on wind development projects?

Wood: Yes, but Airtricity is also doing sales as well, which was a key point of interest for me. They are a developer and a retailer back in their home country [Ireland]. They are working to [implement] that vision here as well—being a branded name in the Texas market,