December 31, 2012 | WGVU
“We had a 600 foot German freighter five stories tall with wind blades and wind tower components. It was quite an impressive site.”
I walk along Muskegon’s Mart Docks with Arn Boezart, who heads up the Michigan Alternative Renewable Energy Center. He tells me this is where seven more ocean freighters each the length of four or five football fields offloaded their cargo.
“During that time had daily convoys that left here moving wind blades one day and wind turbine towers the next day.”
As this leading wind energy expert tells the story, he had plenty of questions.
“I thought now why would we be bringing wind turbine towers and blades from Korea and Germany respectively?”
Clearly, they could be manufactured in the United States - and Michigan in particular - saving the estimated $7 million trans-ocean freight charge. Boezart began making calls to learn the folks behind the BeeBe Wind Farm project - located just north of Lansing near Ithaca – had moved its construction schedule from 2013 to 2012. Why would they do that? Call it a race against the clock to take advantage of a wind energy subsidy. Congress has failed, at least so far, to extend the federal Production Tax Credit set to expire December 31st.
“Congress has a long history of providing tax incentives for energy development spurring new technologies.”
The American Wind Energy Association has produced this video informing decision makers in Washington.
“Because of the uncertainty developers are not making plans and U.S. manufacturers are not receiving orders impacting the wind industry workforce.”
“I would estimate that numbers somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50,000 jobs have been lost in the United States in the last 12 months.”
That’s David Slikkers, he’s Principal of Holland-based, Energetx a maker of composite wind turbine blades.
Slikkers explains the longer congress went without extending the PTC the greater the number of wind projects have been dialed back. Slikkers says the operators of the BeeBe Wind Farm will reap the tax credit reward by meeting the December 31st deadline. But it comes at a cost to local companies like Energetx competitively bidding to fulfill the blade order.
“Absolutely for 2013 we just couldn’t do it quite for 2012. The Production Tax Credit influenced an opportunity. Now I’m not here to debate, I’ll say the spilled milk. I’m saying there’s significant amount of opportunity and investment missing here in our country as a result of them not taking action.”
For Energetx, a contract with the turbine maker for the BeeBe project would have netted 100 to 150 new jobs more than doubling its current workforce.
“The wind industry is not an infant industry anymore. It’s been around for a number of years and it’s high time it stands on its own to feet.”
Thirty four years taxpayers have been propping it up says Dr. Bonner Cohen of The National Center for Public Policy Research. If congress does act, he says it will mark the seventh time the PTC has been extended.
“At what point in the future will these subsidies end?”
At a cost of more than $12 billion a year.
“Why is it that the gas and oil industries have had 93 years of uninterrupted subsidy? I don’t know of any industry that has had such a boom in profits, in billions, over the last five years as the gas and oil companies.”
“But the oil industry does not need the subsidy to survive. If somebody want to do away with the tax credit and you’ve got congress to go along with it, well and good. After all the country is $16 trillion in debt and cuts are going to have to start somewhere.”
The American Wind Energy Association argues over the past four years the PTC is responsible for increasing 40 percent of new power generation installations in the U.S and Europe is wind. Outstripping both coal and nuclear.
“The PTC has fostered dramatic growth of the wind industry in the U.S. It has created 78,000 wind industry jobs and it has enabled suppliers and manufacturers to increase domestic content.”
Without it a 2011 Navigant study indicates total wind supported jobs will drop by nearly half, from 78,000 in 2012 to 41,000 in 2013.
And as we walked the Mart Docks in Muskegon, Arn Boezart tells me there needs to be a national energy strategy in place that provides market certainty for U.S. entrepreneurs, investors and manufacturers…Production Tax Credit or not.
“So whether we do that in this country with tax credits or whether we do it with other offsets. Whether we do it with a national commitment, there’s a variety of ways to skin the cat as they say. But we clearly need to avoid scenarios like we had here this year where we have to import manufactured goods that we clearly have the capacity to make ourselves.”