Vestas is making its $1 billion bet in the United States because local governments have sent enough of a signal and all signs point to the country as the next great wind market, Roberts said. For instance, some 29 states have imposed renewable fuel portfolio standards - requirements that utilities generate a minimum percentage of their electricity from renewable fuels such as wind, solar or geothermal.
"Given the fundamentals in the United States, it does rival any place in the world," Roberts said. "Instead of waiting, we're putting out money there."
But the lack of certainty is unsettling, Roberts acknowledged. Renewable fuels standards are inconsistent. Tax and pricing policies are fickle. "They have a lot of off-ramps that really give you pause."
True change, advocates say, will not happen until carbon has a price. And that needs either comprehensive domestic energy and climate legislation now before the Senate or a worldwide climate treaty.
"You can't have on-again, off-again fiscal policies," said Energy Secretary Stephen Chu at a White House press briefing last month. "As soon as you stop fooling around with all this on-again, off-again stuff you start seeing real growth."
So what, then, to make of all the growth underway?
Outside Racine, Wisc., the plume from We Energies' Pleasant Prairie power plant dominates the skyline, sending some 3,500 gallons a minute of vaporized Lake Michigan water pouring skyward round the clock.
The 1,300-megawatt plant is Wisconsin's biggest. But down below, deep in the shadow of the plant's 450-foot stack, is the feature that makes this plant unique in the state: A way to capture some of the carbon dioxide it sends skyward from all that coal.
Bolted to the plant is a labyrinth of pipes, valves and catwalks surrounding two modest cooling towers. Diverted flue gas is cooled and filtered through ammonia in one column, then pumped to the other, where steam from the plant reheats it and strips off the carbon.
It is simply a test. The five-story contraption is dwarfed by other scrubbers stripping soot, sulfur and other pollutants from the plant's flue. It can capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from the exhaust, although We Energies is diverting less than 1 percent of its flue through the CO2 scrubber.
There's no place to store that carbon anywhere in Wisconsin - the state's geology is just too porous, say plant operators - and so after capture the carbon dioxide is released back into the flue stream.
But the test is a success - the first industrial-scale example of carbon capture in the United States. It is step No. 1 in a three-part, $1.1 billion experiment being conducted by a consortium of energy companies to establish that carbon capture and sequestration technology can strip greenhouse gas emissions from today's coal-fired power plants.
The second part of this experiment went online last month: American Electric Power's Mountaineer plant in West Virginia became the first plant in the United States to sequester carbon dioxide emissions, diverting approximately 20 megawatt's worth of emissions and burying the carbon dioxide in saline rock formations 8,000 feet below the Ohio River. The third test, expected to start in 2012, will scale the process up to a semi-commercial production - a 200-megawatt coal plant in Oklahoma.
AEP, We Energies and 37 other partners involved with these tests are working feverishly to show that baseload coal can be part of a low-carbon energy future, said Henry Courtright, senior vice president of EPRI, which is helping coordinate the project.