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Wind, Solar and ‘Clean Coal’ Blow Into Denver

Democrats, take note: The American Wind Energy Association has officially blown into the political arena. As the Democratic National Convention party scene kicked off Monday, the wind association took the city by storm, renting out the entire historic Wynkoop Brewery.

The association was able to draw Democratic political heavyweights such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) to its soiree. Flags noting the power of wind lined the perimeter of the massive 19th-century building.

“The reception is part of the bigger effort,” said Gregory Wetstone, a lobbyist with the wind association, which also announced on Tuesday the opening of three wind turbine manufacturing plants in Colorado. “These are the steps to be taken to get this issue out there again and again.”

It’s a far cry from the very minimal figure cut by the association in 2004 and heralds alternative energy’s emergence as a major convention player — supplanting the traditional quadrennial heavyweight, the auto industry. Gone are the days, it appears, where Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. were convention headliners.

“We’re not huge sponsors,” Toyota spokesman Ed Lewis said. “We’re not doing lunches or hosting receptions. We are there, but we are there as convention-goers.”

Several energy lobbyists noted the auto industry’s lower profile might be more by necessity than choice.

“The automakers are all broke, and they have no political capital,” one energy lobbyist said. “They have nothing to play with anymore, and the alternative energy groups are outdoing them.”

A lot is at stake, in particular the ongoing fight over how to write massive climate legislation.

With more Democrats expected in the House and Senate, wind and solar are hoping those gains could finally result in a renewal of the tax credits the industry has been fervently advocating.

Even “clean coal” sees the convention as an opportunity to advance its cause.

“Given that energy is going to be one of the No. 1 issues in the election, who better to be here than the industry that’s responsible for providing half of the electricity America relies on every day,” said Joe Lucas, vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which uses scrubbers and other technologies to limit coal’s environmental effect.

Instead of giving to the host committees, Lucas said the coal industry decided to spend $1.7 million on a multipronged advertising campaign in Denver and the Twin Cities, where the Republican convention will be held next week.

That campaign includes advertising in the airports and, in Denver, putting coal facts in the hands of fans at Invesco Field at Mile High for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) Thursday night speech.

Like the wind industry, clean coal had virtually no presence in 2004, Lucas said.

The solar industry has also radically increased its coverage of the convention.

In 2004, the Solar Energy Industries Association sent two people to the conventions and didn’t have a formal presence, according to Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for the group.

In Denver, the association is a silver- level donor at the Democratic convention.

In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the SEIA contributed to the host committee through its membership in the Republican Governors Association.

It is also hosting a party in Denver and jointly hosting a party with the wind association in Minneapolis.

“There’s a huge opportunity because this is sort of the tipping point,” Hanis said. “We want leaders from across the country to be aware that solar energy is available now, it works, and with the proper policies in play it can become a much larger share of the energy [mix].”