Production tax credit tops AWEA conference agenda

Failure to extend the production tax credit would devastate the domestic wind energy supply chain and virtually wipe out wind power development next year, officials stressed during the June 4 opening of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference in Atlanta.

The wind industry group rolled out an array of political supporters from across the spectrum to show widespread backing for the PTC in an election year.

The conference theme is “Manufacturing the Future Today,” with an emphasis on clean energy employment, particularly in the Midwest and South. The industry expects to set a record this year with more than 10 GW installed, but little activity next year without the certainty of the credit.

Domestic manufacturing to supply the industry has grown since the last expiration of the credit with less reliance on imports, as foreign-based suppliers have set up shop in North America.

“This time is very different, from all of our perspectives,” said Ned Hall, a past AWEA chair and global vice president at AES (NYSE: AES). “We’re not importing equipment. It’s not jobs being lost in Europe, but throughout the supply chain, it’s American jobs.”

“Right now, we can’t contract for long-term power beyond 2012 because no one knows what is going on,” said Gabriel Alonso, CEO of EDP Renewables.

The federal production tax credit expires at the end of the year and is currently bogged down in Congress. Projects put online this year are qualified for 10 years for the 2.2 cent per kWh credit.

AWEA says the industry has grown to support 500 manufacturing companies and overall employment in the supply chain, development and other segments tops 75,000. Democratic and Republican governors were on stage to take credit for some of those jobs and to tout clean energy manufacturing policy successes. Those policies include state tax breaks.

Gov. Mike Beebe, Democrat of Arkansas, said 2,000 manufacturing jobs in the state from its own policies and the long-term PTC-generated demand helped it weather the economic downturn. “Get these things done, and for more than one year,” he said in reference to Congress.

Kansas is on pace to add 1,400 MW this year, and lead the nation, receiving $3bn in investment, said Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. “We want to be known as a renewables state, but we have to balance the economy and environment,” he added.

In a press conference after the opening events, he floated an idea not often mentioned in these discussions: a four-year phase-out of the PTC to give the industry certainty and time to prepare for its eventual end.

Heather Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president on energy and climate change for President Obama, reiterated administration support for the PTC extension as a “top 5” priority for Congressional action before the August recess. Obama highlighted this priority with a visit two weeks ago to Iowa-based wind blade manufacturer TPI Composites and a meeting with wind industry officials to help set the legislative agenda.

A bipartisan coalition of 100 Congress members is supporting a four-year extension in the U.S. House of Representatives. Seven senators are sponsoring legislation for a two-year extension in that body.

Ted Turner, Atlanta native and founder of CNN, tried to draw parallels between the cables news industry taking on the broadcast networks and renewable energy starting to compete with entrenched fossil fuel power sources.