By John Myers, Forum Communications
DULUTH — Federal wind energy production tax credits are about to blow off the fiscal cliff unless Congress acts to renew them.
That was the message Wednesday from environmental groups, a Duluth wind turbine company and Duluth Mayor Don Ness, who urged Congress to restore the credits to keep the wind energy industry thriving.
Without the credits, set to expire Dec. 31, it’s expected that the industry will fall into the doldrums, with few new turbines manufactured. That means fewer turbines passing through Duluth’s port and fewer wind farms that replace coal-burning powerplants.
Supporters say that wind energy is helping reduce the state’s reliance on coal for electricity, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions blamed for warming the planet.
The group Environmental Minnesota released a report Wednesday in Duluth saying that wind turbines in Minnesota alone save the equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions of taking 757,000 cars off the road each year. Minnesota now gets about 13 percent of its electricity from wind, the fourth highest amount of any state.
“We can continue on this path of cutting dangerous pollution and saving water if Congress acts now to extend critical wind incentives” said Michelle Hesterberg of Environment Minnesota. “Our message to Congress is clear: Don’t let wind power blow off the fiscal cliff.”
The group called on Minnesotans to urge Congress to vote to renew the tax credits.
The production tax credit, first enacted in 1992, offers 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour for wind energy, a federal incentive intended to encourage development of domestic, renewable energy sources.
Ness noted that Minnesota Power already is moving to increased wind energy and is ahead of schedule toward meeting state requirements to produce 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. But Ness said the federal credits are important to encourage wind investment that keeps money and jobs in Duluth and Minnesota rather than going out of state or overseas for coal or oil.
Joseph Woods, president of Duluth-based Ventera Wind, makers of small wind turbines, said the threat of losing the production tax credit already has crippled the wind industry, forcing layoffs and delaying or canceling wind projects as companies pull back while waiting for Congress to act. Woods said the decision by Congress should be an easy one if jobs and long-term energy and environmental policy are important.
“Wind power is a win-win. It equals a cleaner environment, more jobs and better national security,” Woods said.
But opponents say the cost of the tax credit —an estimated $12 billion for each year it is extended — isn’t worth the benefit, especially as Congress and the President struggle to cut the federal budget deficit. They say the wind industry should be left to compete in the free market with other energy sources without taxpayer subsidy or “energy welfare.”
“The government needs to stop … establishing policies that pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the conservative American Energy Alliance, in a report issued last month. “The wind (production tax credit) has run its course, and taxpayers must no longer be forced to subsidize a well-established wind industry.”
The Alliance is funded largely with money from the coal and oil industries.