NRDC details wind jobs as push continues to extend key tax break

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2012

As the clock ticks down on a key wind industry tax break, a top environmental group today released two reports aiming to detail where jobs are created within the industry and how its growth has created ripple-effect economic benefits, such as boosting incomes and tax revenues in beleaguered cities and towns.

The reports commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council are meant to bolster arguments that the wind industry has been an economic boon as industry supporters continue a long-running lobbying effort urging Congress to extend the wind production tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

Efforts to extend the credit are facing increasing head winds from conservative groups and some companies, such as Exelon, that worry about subsidized wind farms dragging down electricity prices and making it harder for other sources of generation to compete (E&ENews PM, Sept. 10).

A bill that would extend the PTC and dozens of other expiring tax incentives could hit the Senate floor as soon as this month, although the House is not expected to address the issue until after the November elections. PTC opponents carry more weight among conservative House Republicans, but victory in the Senate remains far from assured.

NRDC and other groups have dubbed this “wind week” and are using Congress’ return from its August recess to organize a concerted push for a PTC extension, including today’s reports, letters to lawmakers and related efforts. The National Wildlife Federation is planning to release a separate report Thursday outlining progress in offshore wind development along the Atlantic Coast.

Thousands of jobs already have been lost in the wind industry as component manufacturers have seen few orders for next year because of uncertainty over whether the credit will still be available, and companies also are not expanding as they had hoped to.

Scott Viciana, vice president of Ventower Industries, a supplier of wind towers, said his company is among those that is not as large as it would be due to uncertainty around the PTC. The Monroe, Mich.-based company employs about 55 people, although that number would be at least 20 percent higher without PTC uncertainty — and layoffs remain a possibility, Viciana said.

“We’re faced with losing some jobs, but I think the largest thing has been about our inability to hire more people right now,” Viciana said during a conference call organized by NRDC today.

Industry worried about the future

According to one NRDC report, building a utility-scale 250-megawatt wind farm creates about 1,079 jobs over its lifetime, including in-site evaluation, manufacturing, construction, operations and maintenance, and other areas. The group contracted BW Research Partnership to survey 137 companies involved in all aspects of the wind industry to identify how many jobs are created at each step of a wind farm’s development.

The survey also revealed widespread worry within the industry over the pending PTC expiration, said Phil Jordan, a researcher involved with the study.

“One thing that came up over and over again was certainty,” Jordan told reporters on a conference call this morning. “The greatest uncertainty … this is top of mind for all wind companies — is the PTC.”

A second NRDC report provides ground-level views of particular areas where wind has grown the local economy. For example, Sherman County, Ore., where a dozen wind farms have been constructed over the last decade, saw its per capita income nearly triple, from $18,254 per year in 2001 to $52,530 in 2011, according to the report.

The wind industry employs about 75,000 people overall, although about half those jobs will be lost by the first quarter of next year without a PTC extension, according to a study the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group, commissioned last year.

While the overall level of employment in the wind industry is relatively small in the context of the broader economy, emphasizing the jobs impact of policies such as the PTC has been a central focus of late among clean energy advocates. Cai Steger, an NRDC policy advocate, said that focus aims to counteract critics who dismiss green jobs as a myth or claim jobs are only being created in foreign countries while emphasizing clean energy as an area of growth.

“I think that there’s a powerful story you can tell with the economic benefits,” Steger said. “Especially in the current economic climate, these kind of issues are very important. … If we’re investing in these clean energy technologies, we want to be investing in technologies that are growing.”

NRDC and more than two dozen organizations earlier this week sent a letter to congressional leaders urging extension of the 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour PTC and the related investment tax credit, which covers 30 percent of project costs and can be claimed in lieu of the production credit. The ITC is favored by developers of offshore wind projects and those in onshore areas with less frequent winds.

“Businesses are shuttering and people are being laid off. These are real people with families who are now out of work and don’t have to be,” the groups wrote. “Thousands more are on the chopping block if Congress chooses to stop progress instead of allowing wind’s success story to continue.”

The Senate Finance Committee last month included a one-year PTC and ITC extension in a broad tax package that is now awaiting action on the Senate floor. A vote is possible before November but may be torpedoed by GOP demands to offer unrelated amendments, which would waste valuable floor time, a Democratic aide said yesterday. An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans would be “happy to debate the bill as well as the need to extend all income tax rates,” a reference to cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 that also are set to expire at the end of this year.

In the House, lawmakers and staff continued to negotiate on the PTC and other tax provisions over the August recess but do not expect to consider a bill until after November, Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), a key Ways and Means subcommittee chairman, said yesterday.

NRDC report,

second NRDC report