The Washington Times was in high dudgeon yesterday, lashing out at a series of federal programs aimed at promoting clean energy sources such as wind and solar power. What got lost in all the rhetorical thud and blunder was the enormous progress the U.S. wind power industry has made over the past decade in creating new American manufacturing jobs–many of which are currently at risk due to Congressional inaction on an extension of the federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC)–and helping to bolster an uneven economy.
It's worth noting that, on the very same day that the Times was ripping wind power from inside the Beltway, in Colorado, where several thousand of those at-risk jobs are located, the state legislature passed a resolution recognizing wind energy's contribution to the Colorado economy and the Denver Post editorialized in favor of a PTC extension as well.
Some of the facts about wind's progress, ignored by the Times, deserve repeating:
The PTC has driven tremendous growth in wind equipment manufacturing. American wind power accounts for 75,000 American jobs today, and can grow to almost 100,000 jobs four years from now and support 500,000 American jobs less than 20 years from now, according to a Bush Administration study.
The U.S. now has over 400 facilities in 43 states involved in wind turbine manufacturing – 12-fold growth in domestic manufacturing over the last six years. As the non-partisan Congressional Research Service notes, “Wind turbine manufacturing is at the core of the multifaceted wind power industry. Because of the use of castings, forgings, and machining, turbine manufacturing is a significant contributor to U.S. heavy manufacturing.”
Remarkably in an age of job outsourcing, wind power is actually “insourcing” a whole new manufacturing sector. Sixty percent of a wind turbine's value is now produced here in America, compared to 25 percent prior to 2005.
Why is wind manufacturing growing in the U.S.? It’s simple economics. Wind components are so large – some wind turbine blades are approaching half the length of a football field – that it becomes much cheaper to build them close to where they will be deployed. That means factories in the windy heartland, states like Illinois, Ohio, Kansas and Iowa.
At the same time as wind has created a raft of new manufacturing jobs, its cost has been coming down.
For example, Alabama Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Company (a major electric utility), recently saved its customers money by signing a purchase agreement for wind power. In doing so, it stated: “The delivered price of energy from the wind facility is expected to be lower than the cost the Company would incur to produce that energy from its own resource (i.e. below the Company’s avoided costs), with the resulting energy savings flowing directly to the Company’s customers.”
And in Colorado, in a late-2011 order approving a wind power purchase by Xcel Energy, the state Public Utilities Commission stated that “the contract will save ratepayers $100 million on a net-present-value basis over its 25-year term under a base-case natural gas price scenario” while providing the opportunity to “lock in a price for 25 years.”
It's time for Congress to act on a PTC extension, and it's time for the Washington Times to recognize the obvious: clean energy makes sense.