Two new reports published by the environmental advocacy group the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) show just how vital the wind industry is to America’s economy.
This critical industry could be in for a serious recession within a couple of months. The Production Tax Credit (PTC), which has been integral to the wind industry’s growth — helping to create 75,000 jobs; generate new investment, $14 billion in 2011 alone; and increase the manufacturing of wind energy components in the U.S. two-fold since 2005 — is set to expire at the end of the year.
Renewal of the tax credit will fall on the shoulders of Congress. Republicans currently hold the majority in the House, which is significant considering the diametrically opposing views of the country’s two parties regarding energy policy.
Running on the Republican presidential ticket, Mitt Romney has vowed to center his energy policy around developing the country’s oil and gas resources. He has been highly critical of the incentive programs set up by the Obama administration for clean energy development, and said he is not in favour of renewal of the PTC.
In an interview in Iowa, last week, Romney’s running mate, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said this about the PTC: “We think these tax credits are important to get industries up and running, but we don’t think they should continue on indefinitely.” This statement is highly contradictory, considering subsidies for the “well established” fossil fuel industry are more than six times the amount received by renewable energy industries.
The NRDC studies show wind farms not only create clean power, but also significantly impact the local economies around them. According to the first study, American Wind Farms: Breaking Down the Benefits from Planning to Production, 1,079 direct jobs are created through the development of a 250 MW wind farm. Currently, there are 26 wind farms greater than 140 MW either under construction or in the development stage across the nation. Additionally, there are 125 wind farms greater than 150 MW in operation throughout the country.
The development of the wind industry not only creates jobs, but it also creates new markets for businesses, and new opportunities for communities. NRDC’s second report, At Wind Speed: How the U.S. Wind Industry is Rapidly Growing Our Local Economies, highlights just how deep the economic impact of the wind industry is. In compiling this report, the NRDC assessed communities from across the country and the findings are remarkable.
Take for example Sherman County, Oregon. In 2001, it was one of the poorest regions of Oregon. The county’s per capita income was $18,254, well below the state average of $29,250. The county, a population of 1,735, was almost entirely dependent on agricultural production, from one crop in particular — wheat. All of that changed in 2002 when Sherman Country received its first wind farm. Over the last ten years, 11 more wind farms have been erected with in county limits.
The economic development Sherman County has experienced over the last decade is nothing short of extraordinary. Thanks in part to new job opportunities and leasing royalties, per capita income has increased nearly 300%, growing to $52,350. Sherman Oaks now has the highest per capita income in the state. Even more, the government now receives $10 million in tax revenues from the 1,000 MW of wind energy now installed in the area.
This money is being funnelled back into the community through direct payments (every household receives a $590 check annually) and public development projects (each of the county’s four towns receive $100,000 annually). In an era where schools are in the midst of serious cutbacks, Sherman is an exception. Nearly 20% of all wind farm revenue is pumped into the school system every year.
Sherman County is not the only area to reap the benefits of the wind industry. However, the economic growth within similar counties may not occur if the PTC isn’t renewed, the American Wind Energy Association estimates 37,000 jobs will be lost if the tax credit isn’t renewed. And the long-term future for the wind industry could be even more dismal if Mitt Romney is elected president.
Image: Wind Turbines via Shutterstock