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'Clean Energy' Politics Take Energy Out of Wind Industry Sails

US wind production soars, but politics threaten federal subsidies that have helped elevate industry

Common Dreams staff

The US wind energy industry has capacity to power 13 million homes. (Photograph: Reuters)

As the US wind energy industry hit a new milestone recently by reaching 50GW of power production, the industry trade group warns that 'the best of times' could become the 'worst of times' if a looming deadline to extend federal subsidies for clean energy investment is not met.

The American Wind Energy Association, the lobbying arm of the wind industry, announced recently that the wind sector's 50GW (gigawatts) of capacity is enough to power nearly 13 million American homes, or as many as in Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, and Connecticut combined.

In addition, the number of new operational wind projects across the US is enough to supplant "44 coal-fired power stations or 11 nuclear power plants", will result in emission reductions that would equate to taking 14 million cars off the road, and -- because wind energy demands almost no water use -- conserves 30 billion gallons of water a year compared to thermal electric power generation.

"The milestone," as reported by The Guardian, "was achieved thanks to a surge in new wind farms coming online as developers rush to complete projects before the possible lapsing of the US government's crucial production tax credit (PTC) at the end of this year. According to AWEA, over 2.8GW of capacity has now been added during the year to date, while total US wind energy capacity has doubled since 2008."

The potential good news for the industry, however, is balanced by the politics of clean energy subsidies in the middle of election year politics.

“These truly are the best of times and could be the worst of times for American wind power,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the AWEA. “This month we shattered the 50-gigawatt mark, and we’re on pace for one of our best years ever in terms of megawatts installed. But because of the uncertainty surrounding the extension of the Production Tax Credit, incoming orders are grinding to a halt."

The 'Production Tax Credit' was created under the George H.W. Bush administration and has been extended by each president since. President Obama included the most recent extension of the provision when he signed the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and, as the Washington Post notes specifically "extended the wind credit through 2012 to allow wind energy producers to collect 10 years’ worth of credits up front as a form of stimulus."

But Republican candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to end the subsidy once and the GOP House and Senate leadership have vowed to do the same.

Romney’s campaign has said it would allow the credit to end in order to “create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits,” the Des Moines Register reported.

“At a moment when home-grown energy, renewable energy, is creating new jobs in Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers,” Obama told supporters in Pueblo, Colo.

The wind industry, however, says that layoffs are already occurring due to the politic uncertainty.

“Layoffs have begun up and down our American manufacturing supply chain, which the industry has so proudly has built up in support of the U.S. economy and made-in-the USA manufacturing. And when incoming orders stop, so do factories. Congress must act now to give wind energy a stable business environment to keep producing all this homegrown power, and save 37,000 American jobs by the first quarter of next year,” Bode said.

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