Wind Energy Benefits Minnesota’s Workers and Farmers

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by Joshua Low

“It really is an investment in the rural areas of this country.” That is what Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson said on a conference call with reporters last Thursday.  Rural communities in Minnesota are benefiting from wind energy. It means jobs for thousands of families in Minnesota, additional farm income, and economic development for rural communities. 

EDF Renewables, a wind developer, has built over 900 megawatts of wind generation in Minnesota. Those 900 megawatts of wind generation created over 600 temporary, full time construction jobs, and over 90 full time, permanent positions have been created due to EDF Renewables’s development in Minnesota. 

And when a company builds a wind farm, they lease land from farmers. In the case of EDF Renewables, that was over $4.7 million was paid in 2010 to local Minnesota landowners.

All of this is at risk if Congress doesn’t act soon.  That is why a broad coalition of Minnesota leaders called on Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation to renew the wind energy production tax credit last Thursday.  The Sierra Club, Minnesota Farmers Union and 35 additional businesses, elected officials, community leaders, and organizations submitted a letter to the Delegation asking them to protect jobs by speaking out in favor of extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy. Signers ranged from mayors of small towns to large wind developers.

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The wind industry currently supports more than 75,000 jobs across the country, but if the PTC is not renewed by the end of the year, as many as half of these jobs could be lost. Already, layoffs have been announced at manufacturing facilities and new wind installations have been delayed due to Congressional inaction causing uncertainty around the PTC’s fate. Last month, Siemens announced it would lay off 615 workers, including many in nearby Iowa.

Last October, WindLogics, a St. Paul-based wind patterns analysis company, was forced to lay off 10 employees due to uncertainty around renewal of the PTC. WindLogics is just one of dozens of companies that need the PTC to be renewed in order to bring employees back to work in Minnesota and across the country.

“Wind energy provides income and jobs to farm communities across Minnesota,” said Doug Peterson, President of the Minnesota Farmers Union. “We need Congress to get to work for Minnesotans by renewing the wind energy PTC, so we can keep creating jobs and economic opportunity.”

The PTC helps level the energy playing field and has been a key engine in the huge growth of the wind industry over the past decade. The price of wind power has been steadily decreasing, and when the environmental and health costs of burning dirty fossil fuels are taken into account, wind is already cheaper than energy sources like coal. Meanwhile, wind generation continues to grow across the country — Iowa and South Dakota currently generate 20 percent of their electricity from wind power, and with the right policies in place, the wind industry is on track to produce 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030.

Despite bipartisan support for the PTC, many Republicans in the House of Representatives continue to vote in favor of subsidizing fossil fuels like oil that are raking in record profits, while their leadership has so far failed to even bring the PTC up for a vote.

“The abrupt expiration of the PTC on December 31 puts all of this at risk. Companies cannot plan and finance wind projects with this level of uncertainty,” said Mark Ahlstrom, CEO of WindLogics. 

The sign on letter can be found at http://bit.ly/UvxHUy.

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