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The Energy Future is Now: Extend wind tax credits
The election’s over. Billions of dollars have been spent on campaigns from coast to coast. And the pundits tell us, politically speaking, that we’re back where we were because the players and partisan makeup have barely changed.
A glaring headline in Colorado newspapers just one day after the election spotlights one of many reasons I hope it really won’t be business as usual.
Vestas to lay off another 3,000 by next year
–The Denver Post
Vestas is the Danish wind-turbine producer with operations around the globe. The company opened four manufacturing plants and a research office in Colorado. Vestas was drawn by former Gov. Bill Ritter’s promotion of “a new energy economy” and the state’s renewable energy standard, approved by voters in 2004 and later strengthened by legislators.Lately, Colorado’s new energy fortunes have undergone a reversal. Vestas has reduced its workforce from 1,700 to about 1,200 this year and will close its research office. More reductions in its global workforce are on the way.
The biggest reason, says Vestas, is the uncertain fate of the U.S. wind energy tax production credit. The tax credit, set to expire Dec. 31, is mired in the dysfunction of D.C.
“Even if the PTC should be extended now, I don’t think we’re going to see a normalized U.S. market next year because we are so late into this year,” Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel told The (Greeley) Tribune.
We’ve seen this kind of backtracking before. The Solar Energy Research Institute, now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, opened in Golden, Colo., in 1977 while Jimmy Carter was president. Renewable energy was on a roll. Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day, headed the lab. Scientists were optimistic that renewable energy could supply more than a quarter of the country’s power by 2000 with some help from incentives enjoyed by other forms of energy.
Then, Ronald Reagan defeated Carter and wasted little time in changing course. The renewable energy lab’s budget plummeted from$124 million in 1980 to $59 million in 1982. The staff was cut from 950 to 350. Solar tax credits were phased out. And in 1986, Reagan had the solar-thermal panels installed by Carter removed from the White House roof.
Will History Repeat Itself?
We’ll never know if this country would be the world’s No. 1 wind-turbine maker today if Washington hadn’t pulled the plug on renewable energy. How much cleaner would our air be? What about climate change? Would we be making headway rather than reeling from destructive storms that are growing worse as the world grows warmer? Would we be marveling at the latest technological, environmentally- and wildlife-friendly breakthroughs rather than trying to figure out how wildlife and plants will survive hotter, drier climates?
Those willing to let the production tax credits die rail against government picking winners and losers when it comes to energy. Yet some of these same people ignore science and logic by trying to make a winner out of something like oil shale, still just an idea despite a century of trying to squeeze kerogen (a precursor to oil) out of rock deposits in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. They’d be happy to make big chunks of our public lands—much of it prime fish and wildlife habitat—available to companies before the technology is proven and the impacts are known
Energy, especially in a global economy, is complicated. A glut of natural gas has driven down prices, widening the gap between the cost of gas-fueled and wind-fueled power. But gas prices are historically volatile and if people are serious about an all-of-the-above energy strategy, solar and wind power must be in the portfolio.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is among a bipartisan group of governors urging Congress to extend the wind-power tax credit. Colorado Sens. Mark Udall (petition here) and Michael Bennet (petition here) are among the members of Congress working for extension of the wind tax credit and urging public support.