Energy official pushing green-energy credits

  • Article by: JIM SPENCER
  • Star Tribune
  • July 16, 2012 - 5:45 PM

Time was when wind turbine manufacture and installation was a thriving industry in southern Minnesota. Union officials estimate their workers spent about 225,000 man hours constructing wind farms from 2005 to 2010.

Not anymore.

The possible expiration of green-energy production tax credits at the end of 2012 has unsettled the market. Federal and local officials say the credits make environmentally friendly power sources more attractive to investors and affordable to consumers. But not knowing whether those credits will continue has caused some analysts to steer investors away from wind turbine and solar panel manufacturers.

"I have visited plants in the supply chain," Deputy U.S. Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said during a trip to Minnesota Monday. "A lack of certainty has chilled the orders."

On his latest trip, Poneman visited green energy production facilities at Daikin McQuay in Plymouth and a union-run wind turbine contruction training facility near Rochester. Poneman came to Minnesota as part of an Obama administration push to convince the U.S. Senate and House to extend the production tax credits, which the president says produce jobs, lower energy costs and lead to cleaner air.

Critics, including Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., author of the GOP economic blueprint for America's future, call for repealing green-energy tax credits to cut the national deficit and to let the free market govern energy investment.

At Daikin McQuay, chairman emeritus Ron Hanlon disagreed that green-energy tax credits are an indulgence the country can no longer afford. Incentives for renewable energy are the "proper, appropriate role for government," he said. "You accelerate development of efficiency and create jobs."

In southern Minnesota, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 343 hopes to place nearly 700 workers schooled in wind turbine construction. Union officials say a single wind farm project provides employment for about 45 electricians.

"It's electrical work, and it's new technology," union training director Andy Toft said of the alternative energy sources. "If we can diversify our workforce and diversify our contractors, when one sector slows down, we can have jobs in another."

In years past, green-energy tax credits have been extended several times by the Senate and House. But experts predict little, if any, movement on the credits before the November presidential election and maybe not even after.

Extending the tax credits "ought to be bipartisan, but it isn't," said congressional expert Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. "The Republicans are, strangely enough, running against green energy. They are all about drilling [for oil and natural gas] and [building the Keystone natural gas] pipeline [from Canada to Texas]."

Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123

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