Comment: America can boost role of wind energy

Source: By James Walker, EDF Renewable Energy, The Detroit News • Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2015

America leads the world in wind power — and it’s doing so with one arm behind its back.

Today, 39 states, have utility-scale wind turbines. Combined, these 39 states generate more wind energy than any other country in the world.

The federal Production Tax Credit, first signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, has spurred the growth of wind power — and generated billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs in the process.

Unfortunately, the credit expired at the end of 2014. Congress must act quickly to extend it. Doing so would accelerate the United States’ shift to clean energy and foster economic growth across the country.

Wind power is one of the great success stories of the modern economy. Inventors in New Hampshire launched the world’s first wind farm 35 years ago. In the early 1980s, just one state, California, housed more than 80 percent of all installed wind power worldwide.

Today, U.S. wind turbines are so productive that our nation regularly finishes ahead of other countries that have also installed large numbers of turbines, including China, Spain and Germany. This is some of the best infrastructure America has ever built.

The Production Tax Credit has helped U.S. wind compete with other energy sources that had benefited from decades of tax incentives and federal investments.

The credit has fueled sustained technological progress, including taller towers, longer blades, better gearboxes, computerized controls, and new power lines. Project developers now know how to locate turbines so that they capture the most wind with the least impact on local wildlife, while reducing pollution that threatens everyone.

Today, the United States generates enough wind energy to power 18 million homes. The wind sector has supported an average of more than 73,000 well-paying jobs and attracted more than $17 billion a year in private investment over the last five years.

Many of the raw materials used to build wind turbines are sourced right here in the United States. More than 500 factories in 43 states, including 33 in Michigan, now manufacture parts for the wind industry.

As the industry has grown, the economic benefits have reverberated down the supply chain. With wind-related manufacturers active around the country, transportation costs for key parts have plummeted. That’s helped wind become increasingly cost-competitive with other energy sources in wind-rich areas of the country.

Fortunately, there’s room for even more growth. The U.S. Department of Energy is working on a major “Wind Vision” study, to be released next month, that shows how to double wind energy production by the end of this decade. That means wind could be responsible for 10 percent of the U.S. electricity supply in 2020. By 2030, that figure could reach 20 percent. By 2050, wind could be America’s biggest source of electricity.

That’s a future Americans want. A recent poll found that fully 73 percent support the tax credit for investment in new wind farms.

Congress should listen. This clean, homegrown energy source has become a symbol of national progress.

Extending the Production Tax Credit would keep wind power competitive and generate economic benefits for decades to come.

James Walker is vice chairman of the board of EDF Renewable Energy and former chairman of the board of the American Wind Energy Association.