Local view: Preserve tax credit to save jobsMinnesota is blazing trails for wind-energy development, ranking fifth nationally for installed wind capacity while attracting millions of dollars of investment and creating high-quality jobs.
By: Mark Ahlstrom, for the News Tribune
Here in Minnesota, we’re innovators. In Rochester, we’ve got the Mayo Clinic, an international leader in health care and research. In the Twin Cities, we’re home to innovative Fortune 500 companies like 3M and Target. And across the entire state, we’re proving to be national leaders in clean energy. Minnesota is blazing trails for wind-energy development, ranking fifth nationally for installed wind capacity while attracting millions of dollars of investment and creating high-quality jobs.
Wind accounts for nearly 13 percent of Minnesota’s electricity right now with more being integrated every day. The federal Production Tax Credit for renewable energy has created valuable jobs across Minnesota, ranging from port workers in Duluth to construction workers in Pipestone.
In this election year, I heard a lot of rhetoric about creating and protecting American jobs. But as Minnesota’s congressional delegation wavers on renewing the Production Tax Credit for renewable energy, the words I heard have less meaning. As CEO of a Minnesota company that supports the wind industry, I know this firsthand.
WindLogics and other Minnesota companies are leaders in the clean-energy economy. The wind industry employs 2,000 to 3,000 Minnesotans who manufacture wind-turbine parts, ship turbine components, design and build wind projects and otherwise support the burgeoning wind industry.
The Production Tax Credit was created to help level the playing field for the wind industry. The tax credit has been successful at helping to move the wind industry forward, and wind energy is starting to achieve the economies of scale it needs for its long-term success as a competitively priced, clean, sustainable and mainstream source of electricity.
However, the abrupt expiration of the Production Tax Credit on Dec. 31 puts the success of an entire industry at risk. With this looming deadline, political games in Congress have very real consequences for my employees and for clean-energy jobs in Minnesota.
Companies cannot plan and finance wind projects amid so much uncertainty. Because WindLogics works on early stages of wind projects, analyzing wind data long before construction begins, we already felt the impact of the unknown last year and, reluctantly, reduced our staff. The impact of the expiration of the Production Tax Credit is now raging through the entire industry with major cuts to manufacturers of wind turbines and wind towers this fall and construction crews facing huge cuts as soon as they complete projects later this year.
Many fossil-fuel energy sources receive tax incentives and subsidies that have been deeply embedded in the tax code over the past century. These subsidies continue today even though these fuels are mature and well-developed. Long-term subsidies for established fuels make it difficult for new energy sources to get started and reach the point where they can compete on their own.
That is why we recently joined with 36 other community leaders, businesses and organizations to call on Congress to renew the Production Tax Credit. Jobs in the wind industry are not expendable or to be cast off lightly. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that as many as 37,000 jobs, mostly in the manufacturing sector, could be lost nationally if no action is taken to renew the Production Tax Credit by the end of the year.
Republican Congressman Dave Reichert of Washington state already is leading the effort to renew the wind-energy Production Tax Credit. The bill already has the support of 118 co-sponsors, including three of Minnesota’s delegation. In his final weeks in Washington, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack should be the fourth.
While Cravaack will not serve in the next Congress, he can leave a legacy of creating Minnesota jobs by backing the renewal of the Production Tax Credit before it expires on Dec. 31.
Our congressional delegation, especially Rep. Cravaack, should support policies that can help Minnesota maintain its emerging leadership in wind energy and complete the job of moving our state’s electricity supply toward a cleaner and more sustainable future. Real clean-energy jobs are on the line for Minnesota. The stakes are high. And time is running out.
Mark Ahlstrom is CEO of WindLogics Inc. of St. Paul. He wrote this for the News Tribune.