Within days of wind-turbine manufacturer Gamesa announcing plans to lay off 92 employees at its Cambria Township turbine plant, newly re-elected President Barack Obama made his most direct address to climate change yet.
Obama acknowledged that he joins the majority of Americans in believing that “climate change is real, (and) that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions.”
The recent presidential campaign saw both candidates fighting over who was the bigger champion of fossil fuels, and the fossil-fuel industries made its preference for Mitt Romney and Senate hopeful Tom Smith obvious by spending $270 million on advertisements framing Obama and Sen. Bob Casey as job killers.
Voters were not that gullible and easily recognized the fossil-fuel industry’s PR campaign called the “war on coal” for what it really was: A war on lungs.
The public realized that the short-term economic boost provided by aggressively increasing fossil-fuel energy production was not worth the economic costs from pollution-related health impacts and from extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy.
Obama said that he would not tackle climate change if he believed it risked hurting the economy, but, “if, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something the American people can support.”
Before America can truly be an international leader in the fight against climate change, Obama and the public must persuade Congress to extend the wind production tax credit before it expires at the end of the year.
If the federal government continues the tax credit, which gives 2.2 cents back to wind developers for every kilowatt-hour generated, the international firm Navigant Consulting estimates that direct wind-industry jobs will grow to 100,000 employees throughout the United States by 2016.
If the tax credit is not extended, 37,000 good-paying American jobs in the clean-wind industry will be lost.
To not extend the tax credit would nullify the immense gains made by the wind industry in the past decade. In 2005, 25 percent of a wind turbine was made domestically. Today, that figure has grown to 60 percent.
The nation has gained almost 19,000 megawatts of wind power in the past four years, adding more than 35 percent of emission-free wind power, roughly equivalent to 12 Hoover Dams.
A third of Pennsylvania’s wind farms were constructed within the most recent extension of the tax credit in 2009. Unfortunately, in anticipation of the fight over the tax credit, planned wind farms in Bedford, Clearfield and Somerset counties were scrapped over the summer.
It is sadly ironic that during a season marked by damaging droughts and record heat, Congress failed to modestly support renewable energy.
Wind power’s detractors claim the $1 billion annual expense of the tax credit is unaffordable. To put this in perspective, the better established and much more profitable oil and gas industry receives $4 billion in tax breaks every year thanks to a tax code sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. Federal aid to wind energy brings the price of wind energy down to be competitive with fossil fuels, allowing consumers to vote with their dollars and purchase competitively priced, emission-free energy while protecting public health.
Initially spurred by former Gov. Ed Rendell’s clean-energy initiative, which called for 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s electric grid to be renewable by 2020, the wind industry helped Pennsylvania re-emerge as a manufacturing powerhouse. International turbine manufacturing companies such as Gamesa settled in Pennsylvania and created 4,000 jobs, a majority of which use the steelworking skills Pennsylvanians developed from working in other industries.
Though it has become highly politicized by anti-tax extremists, the production tax credit began as a bipartisan effort proposed by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in 1992 to diversify America’s energy sources. The fact that 82 percent of American wind capacity is located in Republican congressional districts should ensure bipartisan support.
With a little help from Congress, Pennsylvania will be able to take full advantage of its almost 4,000 megawatts of generating capacity and power over a million homes with clean, domestic renewable energy.
Russell Zerbo is federal advocacy coordinator for the Clean Air Council, a nonprofit environmental organization headquartered in Philadelphia.