Published on July 30th, 2014 | by Tina Casey6
Wind Energy Jobs In Jeopardy All Over Again
July 30th, 2014 by Tina Casey
It’s déjà vu all over again for wind energy jobs, as once again the US wind industry is entering its periodic ritual of renewal for a key federal tax credit. The last time Congress dithered over the renewal, the US wind industry almost ground to a halt. This time even more is at stake. The industry has recovered since that downturn, and its growing domestic supply chain means that wind energy jobs are popping up even in states that aren’t particularly friendly to renewable energy.
Wind Energy Jobs And The Production Tax Credit
Let’s note up front that the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind power is a tax break, but the US energy industry in general gets all kinds of breaks and subsidies to defray costs, ensure global competitiveness, and create jobs.
That’s been particularly true of the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel harvesting and consumption involves an enormous load of public health and environmental costs shared by US taxpayers, for which the industry has never been fully called to account.
The PTC has been leveling the playing field for wind energy since first established by Congress in the 1990’s, and it was extended as a matter of routine until President Obama took office and the US wind industry took off and entered into serious competition with the fossil fuel sector.
Here’s what happened to US wind energy jobs back in 2012, the last time that Congress dragged its heels over renewing the PTC (following are examples cited by AWEA, the American Wind Energy Association ):
Wind turbine blade manufacturer LM Wind Power laid off 94 full-time employees and 140 temporary employees…Wind turbine manufacturer Siemens laid off 615 employees…Wind project developer juwi Wind closed its office in Cleveland, Ohio…Iberdrola Renewables laid off 50 U.S. employees…
With the PTC set to expire again at the end of this year, US wind energy workers are looking at another round of layoffs.
Earlier this week Speaker Boehner took time out from suing the President over something to write an editorial about suing the President over something (we’ll let you know what that something is when he gets around to articulating it), concluding:
I believe this path is the right one to defend our institution and preserve the Constitution, while continuing to focus on the American people’s top priority — helping our private sector create more American jobs.
Grassley Schools Boehner On Wind Energy Jobs
Jobs, now that’s an easy one. Someone ought to point Speaker Boehner in the direction of the PTC. In a recent blog post, AWEA noted two examples of wind energy jobs that have been created since the last time the tax credit was renewed, in 2012:
…Vestas now has 800 open positions in Colorado. The company expects to have more than 2,800 employees in the state by the end of the year…Tower maker Nello Corp. is getting approval from a local planning commission to build a new factory in South Bend, Ind. The company expects to hire 600 workers for the plant.
While almost all of the pushback against the tax credit has come from the Republican side of the aisle (what, I’m not supposed to mention that?), the wind industry does have one longtime Republican champion, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.
Senator Grassley has introduced amendments to the federal “Bring Jobs Home Act” that would extend the PTC for wind power. Our friends over at The Hill noted that he had this to say:
If the Senate truly wants to create and retain jobs, restoring clean energy tax incentives should be at the top of the list.
Wind Energy Jobs And The US Steel Industry
As noted by The Hill, Senator Grassley will blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) if the amendment fails, but we’re going to go out on a limb and predict the survival of the PTC, or some other form of equitable support from us taxpayers.
For one thing, the number of voters with wind energy jobs up and down the supply chain is increasing, and that includes a substantial number of military veterans (support our troops, right?).
That only tells one part of the story. The other part consists of the growing number of US corporations that have benefited, or stand to benefit, from the growth of the domestic wind industry.
The domestic steel industry is one example of the growing potential for support at the corporate level. The industry plays a critical role in wind energy, since virtually all wind turbine towers are made of steel (btw concrete is taking a stab at it, we’ll see how that goes).
Back in March 2013, John Surma, the Chair and CEO of the United States Steel Corporation, testified at a House hearing on steel production in the US.
The gist of his testimony was that US steel industry jobs were being undermined by a surge in imported steel pipe and tubes, particularly by the oil and gas industry. That dovetails with a complaint over imported steel brought by four wind industry companies in 2011.
With pressure from the steel industry and the wind industry, the Commerce Department took action in 2012 to impose new tariffs on wind turbine towers imported from China and Vietnam.
We’re thinking that the symbiotic relationship between the domestic steel and wind industries will come into play as debate over the PTC heats up all over again.