Comment: Congress must not let wind energy jobs blow away

Source: By Michael Brune and Leo W. Gerard, The Hill • Posted: Friday, November 21, 2014

The winds that froze Americans a week after the midterm elections could help solve the problems voters told pollsters most concerned them – jobs and the economy.

Those winds that whipped snow across the country’s midsection could be harnessed to create clean electrical power and family-supporting jobs across the country.

Wind energy provides a powerful success story. In 2012, wind was our nation’s fastest-growing source of new electrical capacity. Wind power is a clean, renewable energy source that produces no greenhouse gases or air pollution and consumes virtually no water. As its share of our nation’s energy mix increases, we’re also protecting our planet.The wind industry currently employs more than 50,000 American workers and produces enough clean energy to power 15 million homes. Wind energy creates good-paying jobs for the workers who build, maintain, and operate wind turbines, and who support operations. A strong domestic wind industry is essential to the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing and good manufacturing jobs.

Nearly a third of domestic wind jobs are in manufacturing. Over 500 U.S. manufacturing facilities – including some whose workers are represented by United Steelworkers – build components for wind turbines. As we expand wind energy, we must also develop and use more robust domestic supply chains.

The story of American wind power shows us that creating good jobs and protecting our air and water is not an either/or proposition. We can do both. In fact, we must.

In Kansas, for instance, wind already generates nearly 20 percent of the state’s electricity. The industry supports 5,000 jobs across its supply chain and generates $13 million annually in lease payments. The industry doubled its capacity in 2012 and continued to expand in 2013. Wind power has helped Kansas conserve billions of gallons of water and has reduced air pollution by the equivalent of taking nearly one million cars off the road.

For wind in Kansas, the sky’s the limit. Wind has the potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs, while generating enough clean energy to meet the state’s current electricity needs 90 times over.

Yet Congress has created a significant headwind for the industry by failing to renew a modest tax credit called the Wind Production Tax Credit or PTC. The PTC slightly narrows the huge divide that separates wind and subsidized traditional fuels. By helping to level the playing field, the PTC makes it possible for new wind projects to get off the ground.

The PTC expired at the end of 2013, and opposition led by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) has stalled its renewal. Why would a congressional representative who is from a wind state (and is a champion of job creation) work to stall the American wind industry? Why would he oppose this homegrown clean energy source even though Kansans overwhelming support it? (A January 2014 poll found 88 percent of registered voters in Kansas believe that renewable energy will lead to new investment and grow its economy, and 85 percent believe that it will create jobs in the state. Nine in 10 say that renewable energy is the right thing for the future of Kansas and for the country.)

Interestingly, Pompeo’s biggest campaign contributor by far is Koch Industries, led by Charles and David Koch. The pair of billionaire right-wing activists has fought against the PTC through their advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. In a letter to Congress, the group called wind an unworthy energy source, saying that “the wind industry has very little to show after 20 years of preferential tax treatment.” The people of Kansas, it seems, would disagree with the Kochs’ assessment.

The Kochs’ complaints are disingenuous at best and are part of what many believe is an effort to squash a clean competitor to traditional fuel sources. Currently, all energy sources receive subsidies. In fact, oil and gas are subsidized to the tune of roughly $7 billion annually.

Congress has a narrow window of opportunity to extend the PTC, and if they take it, we expect it to pass with a strong bipartisan vote. With this vote we can keep wind on track, and the industry will produce 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030. We urge Congress to continue to invest in a future with cleaner air and water and good jobs in communities across the country.

Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization with more than two million members and supporters. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers, representing 850,000 workers employed in metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining and renewable energy products, chemicals, transportation, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments.