By Senator Ron Wyden
Just as the wind energy industry is poised for a record year, uncertainty about federal energy policy is threatening to pull the plug on its future.
The federal production tax credit for wind power is set to expire in less than three months. Wind energy companies are already curtailing manufacturing and construction plans, laying off workers along the way.
More layoffs are expected if we don't act quickly. An estimated 37,000 Americans stand to lose their jobs within the next six months, according to the American Wind Energy Association, if Congress does not extend the tax credit, which supports the generation of wind energy. A similar fate awaits other renewable energy sectors, including biomass and waste-to-energy, which have tax credits set to expire next year.
The wind energy industry has created 75,000 jobs across our country -- from turbine manufacturers in Ohio to power companies in Oregon. Each time a major wind farm is built, nearly 1,100 jobs are created along the supply chain, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Congress shouldn't let political gridlock shut down a promising source of clean, homegrown energy. This is why I voted with a bipartisan group of senators to extend the renewable energy production tax credit earlier this year. The House should follow suit.
Congress should continue this crucial program in the short term to stop the economic damage caused by the expiration of these tax credits. In the longer term, however, Congress needs to find a better way to create clean-energy jobs than its on-again, off-again approach to the production tax credit.
As part of a larger energy policy -- and tax reform efforts -- we should rethink how the government treats energy incentives. Both for renewables and for other energy sources.
I have proposed a bipartisan bill with Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) that would simplify and flatten the Tax Code to reduce the massive tax advantage that oil companies reap from federal subsidies. It would also pare back the tangle of tax provisions supporting other energy industries.
At a minimum, Congress should investigate creating technology-neutral policies that reward innovation and homegrown energy rather than keeping each energy source in its own silo, with separate tax credits, loan guarantees and other incentives.
It's vital for Congress to lead on this issue. My home state is a good example of how wind energy can create jobs and help local communities -- when government policies lead to successful investments.
One of the world's largest wind farms, Shepherds Flat, came online in Central Oregon last week. The site can generate 845 megawatts of clean energy -- but local ranchers can continue to graze herds in the shadow of wind turbines.
Nearby in Sherman County, a dozen wind farms have been built over the past decade. Per capita income in Sherman County has gone from among the state's lowest -- $18,354 in 2001 -- to the state's highest -- $52,530 last year -- according to the NRDC report. Wind energy companies have added $17.5 million in local property taxes and fees. Nearly 600 construction and operations jobs have been created by the wind farms, providing badly needed employment opportunities for the 1,700 residents.
At a time when Americans need more jobs -- and also more sources of clean, renewable energy -- the wind industry and its renewable cousins can provide both. Now, Congress needs to ensure that the economic generator of renewable energy does not go idle.