Wind turbines in Pipestone, Minn.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

What is wind energy worth to Minnesotans?

  • Article by: BETH SOHOLT
  • December 29, 2011 - 8:22 PM

A recent article by Star Tribune Washington Bureau correspondent Kevin Diaz highlighted the debate in Washington over the renewable-energy Production Tax Credit ("Wind projects prompt fight in Congress over subsidies," Dec. 19).

Unfortunately, the story paid little attention to the economic and energy benefits that Minnesotans have experienced during the life of this successful program.

Wind farms across Minnesota have been welcomed by many communities. Residents and local governments witness the economic benefits firsthand. Schools and businesses see an increase in revenue.

An expanded tax base allows counties to invest in parks, roads and other community projects.

In Worthington, Nancy Vaske, the general manager of the AmericInn, a landowner in the Nobles Wind Project, emphasized in a statement to Wind on the Wires (an industry trade group) the benefit her community received:

"We had many [project] employees staying at our property the entire time. All the other motels were very busy as well. All of the workers used our local restaurants, and shopped at all our stores," she said. Worthington and surrounding communities have seen a boom in recent years due to the wind industry.

As for the energy produced, Vaske continued: "The claim that none of the wind towers will benefit the local people is not true. We will all benefit because this is helping all of us not depend on other counties for our energy needs. When I see my tower turning I think not of personal gain but of the energy we are not depending on someone else for."

Minnesota has been a leader in wind energy development since the early 1990s.

This leadership has yielded a commitment from wind developers, manufacturers and construction companies to locate and expand their businesses in and around the state. Mortenson Construction, a Minnesota-based company, is a national leader in wind farm construction.

At a time when the state is doing all it can to attract good-paying jobs, would you have these companies take their business elsewhere?

On the matter of subsidies, readers should know that the results-based Production Tax Credit is only a fraction of the subsidy that other forms of energy production have been receiving for decades.

Businesses need a certain level of certainty in order to grow and hire. The federal government has provided such certainty to oil and gas companies for decades with permanent subsidies through the tax code. We'd like to level the playing field.

A recent study, "What Would Jefferson Do?" by DBL Investors, states that the current incentives for renewable energy "do not constitute an over-subsidized outlier when compared to the historical norm for emerging sources of energy. For example ... the federal commitment to [oil and gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each [incentive's] life, and it was more than 10 times greater for nuclear."

Over the last decade, the wind industry has added thousands of jobs. With an extension of the tax credit, it is poised to create or save 54,000 jobs in the next four years.

Furthermore, a new study by Navigant Consulting finds that if Congress allows the tax credit to expire, major job losses will be immediate.

This not only threatens nearly 100,000 jobs the wind industry will otherwise have in the near term, but also the 500,000 jobs the Bush administration found would result if wind produced 20 percent of America's electricity by 2030, which the industry is on track to achieve.

The Navigant study also concludes that the tax credit extension would cost about $13.6 billion but would result in approximately $25.6 billion in investment and tax revenue.

The bottom line is that wind energy in Minnesota is sound business and smart policy. It's good for consumers.

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Beth Soholt is executive director of Wind on the Wires.

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