With Congress apparently not greatly moved by the necessity of saving the planet from a fiery death, environmentalists are playing the jobs card -- the issue über alles in America these days -- in their push to convince lawmakers to act now to keep the wind power production tax credit from shriveling up and blowing away at the end of the year.
The economic impact of wind power is the first thing you see on the Sierra Club’s Wind Works page, and it’s the subject of a new National Resources Defense Council report, released Tuesday, which asserts that a typical new 250-megawatt wind farm will create 1,079 jobs -- manufacturing jobs, construction jobs, engineering jobs and management jobs.
A second report from the NRDC goes in a different direction, but only slightly. It focuses on four communities that have benefited from wind farm developments: Sherman County, Ore.; Livingston County, Ill.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Canton, Ohio.
“Every time a wind farm gets built, American jobs are created,” said NRDC policy advocate Cai Steger, co-author of the report. “These reports show what the PTC has done for the wind industry -- and why it’s essential that it is extended.”
Rather than use existing research and economic modeling to arrive at a jobs number, the NRDC consultant BW Research Partnership interviewed 137 companies in fourteen categories, asking them what the real impact would be on their jobs picture if they were to get work from a 250-megawatt wind project.
The report said non-construction businesses would account for 557 jobs: 432 in manufacturing, 80 in planning and development, eighteen in sales and distribution and 27 in operations and maintenance. Construction would check in with another 522 jobs, accounting for activities like buildings roads and foundations, installing turbines and wiring, and connecting the power plant to the grid.
To highlight the real impact on companies in the wind supply chain, the NRDC brought Scott Viciana, vice president of Ventower Industries, onto a conference call with reporters today. Viciana reiterated what company president Gregory Adanin told us in an interview late last month: uncertainty over the PTC is already costing jobs. Viciana estimated that the Michigan company’s workforce, numbering around 55 now, would be 15 percent to 20 percent bigger if wind developers knew the PTC would still be available in the next couple of years.
Of course, not all 1,079 jobs the NRDC tallied would be “permanent” jobs (if such a thing even exists anymore), but the group argued that with steady wind farm construction, growth could be sustained. And it noted that its total did not rely on indirect and induced jobs, which are often included in “jobs created” estimates.
These sort of estimates have become a common feature in debates about energy project and policy -- whether they’re green or not. Republicans have employed such estimates in trying to build their case for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The NRDC said it wasn’t running away from the underlying climate-change argument for wind power. “From our perspective, there are a number of reasons to be transferring to a clean energy economy,” with moving toward a sustainable energy infrastructure heading the list, Steger said. “This report doesn’t indicate [that] we’re going one way or the other.”
The reports were released to coincide with Congress returning from its August recess. Just before the lawmakers headed out of town, the Senate Finance Committee voted, with some Republican support, to retain the wind PTC as part of a package of tax breaks. But whether the matter even gets taken up before the election remains an open question, and most observers expect the issue to be dealt with, one way or another, during a lame duck Congress.
President Obama strongly supports the PTC, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney is nominally opposed, although with wind power popular in the battleground state of Iowa, he hasn’t been talking about the issue much.
More vigorous opposition has come from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Late last week, Americans for Prosperity and 63 other organizations sent a letter to every member of Congress arguing that the it was time to put a stop to the “deplorable practice of using the tax code to favor certain groups over others.”
Taking on that argument, the NRDC said the PTC is actually a tool for leveling the playing field with fossil fuels industries that are well entrenched after years of government support. “Change isn’t going to happen overnight,” Steger said.