What do they know that we don’t know? The utility giant National Grid has just announced a $40 million investment in four new high-voltage, long-distance renewable energy transmission projects by Clean Line. The move comes as Republican leaders in the House of Representatives continue to stall on extending a key federal wind power tax credit, leading to an uncertain future for the U.S. wind industry. However, National Grid’s investment appears to indicate that wind energy is the wave of the future, and extension of the wind tax credit might just be a good bet after all.
Clean Line’s Renewable Energy Projects
Though not exclusively dedicated to wind power, Clean Line’s four projects involve moving renewable energy from wind-rich states in the Midwest out to neighboring states and beyond.
The Plains & Eastern Clean Line will move 3,500 megawatts from western Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas, and the Texas Panhandle to Southeastern states.
The Grain Belt Express Clean Line will deliver 3,500 MW from Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and points east. This project is particularly interesting because it involves a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to avoid habitat disruption.
The Rock Island Clean Line will connect 3,500 MW from northwest Iowa to Illinois and points east, and the Centennial West Clean Line will deliver 3,500 MW from northeastern New Mexico to California.
A Bright Future for the U.S Wind Industry?
All this points to a lot of optimism over future development in wind power production. That might seem counter-intuitive, considering the opposition to extending the tax credit from key Republican leaders all the way up to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
However, if you check out the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s recent piece on long-term wind industry trends, a distinct pattern emerges. Since 1992, when the tax credit was first authorized, every time it has been allowed to lapse, the wind industry has faltered, and as soon as it has been restored, the wind industry has come roaring back.
In more recent years, as Brad Plumer of the Washington Post points out, state-level clean energy mandates have helped to create an additional cushion, smoothing out some of the bumps in the tax credit’s cycle of extensions and lapses.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, another cause for optimism can be seen in the results of this election cycle. According to AWEA CEO Denise Bode:
“We heard a lot about wind energy in this election, and it proved to be a winning issue because it is so popular with the American people. As just one measure, an overwhelming majority of the members supported by our political action committee, WindPAC, won their races.”
That makes even more sense in terms of the new Clean Line projects, which stand to give the wind industry a huge boost in states dominated by Republican legislators. Those wind industry jobs are occupied by constituents who have a powerful interest in pressing their representatives in Washington to preserve their jobs, and create more.
Still a Need for the Federal Wind Power Tax Credit
Despite the apparent optimism of National Grid and AWEA, there’s no question that the dithering on the Republican side of the aisle has already led to job losses in the wind industry this year, with even more pain to come if the tax credit is not extended.
That’s a double shame in the case of job prospects for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The wind industry has been actively recruiting veterans, many of whom have the kind of physical training and technology background that make a good fit for careers in wind power.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.