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PTC and Minnesota Clean Energy Markets

April 25, 2012 By Erin Daly, Macalester College

Over the past several weeks Minnesota 2020 has been running a series of columns focusing on environmental policy issues. This is part of our continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Environmental Studies Department and its students.

In December 2012 the Production Tax Credit (PTC) will expire, crippling clean energy markets in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. Currently this tax credit supports markets in solar, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, wind, and a host of other alternative energy sources. The PTC makes it possible for clean energy production to be a viable, affordable alternative to coal and oil dependency

Under its reign, American wind manufacturing grew twelve-fold in the last six years. Not to mention, PTC has helped fund thousands of jobs in clean energy construction. This has included both the Buffalo Ridge and Fenton wind farms, which have propelled Minnesota to among the top five wind-producing states.

In mid-February a bill supporting the renewal of the PTC failed to make the ballot in Congress, and the wind industry is already starting to suffer from reluctant investors. Without the PTC, we could face a loss of $16 billion dollars of private investment and up to 37,000 jobs in the wind industry alone. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but our economy can’t really take that kind of a blow right now (pun intended).

Speaking of the American economy, let’s take a little pride in something we’ve done quite successfully lately, shall we? Domestic wind energy production in 2011 increased over 30 percent from 2010 levels, resulting in 6,800 new Megawatts of renewable, homegrown power. That’s enough to support 1.6 million homes. Additionally, as the market currently stands, 60 percent of wind turbine materials are made in the United States. Combine that with the 100 percent American wind turning the blades and we’ve got ourselves 11 million homes that do not aggravate our dependence on foreign energy sources.

Better still, the environmental impact of wind turbines is felt far outside the bounds of our economy; on the ground and in the air all across our nation. In the Midwest especially, wind energy is playing a significant role in national pollution reduction efforts.

For one example, let us examine coal. Coal power plants responsible for heating our homes have far-reaching effects that we don’t notice under the “relief” of harsh Minnesota winters. Yet the greenhouse gasses we’re spouting far above our 10,000 lakes are coming down in the form of acid rain all over the eastern reaches of our nation; including my childhood home in central New York.

The Adirondack Mountains are the New York equivalent of the boundary waters; with topography. Yet as Midwest industry fuels itself by burning non-renewables such as coal, many east coasters are seeing their beloved natural get-away deteriorating. The Adirondacks have fallen victim to increasing lake acidification, to the point where fish can no longer survive. In healthy natural systems, small amounts of acid rain can be neutralized by limestone and other defusing elements. Yet these elements cannot replace themselves at a rate sufficient to keep the effects of acidification at bay.

So before you know it, our wilderness retreats to the Adirondacks are suddenly devoid of entire aquatic ecosystems. What was once a source of pride and subsistence for locals with strong ties to the land, is now a barren chain of lakes; due to pollution originating a thousand miles away.

Through this disparity between the benefits and effects of fossil fuel consumption, one can see why Midwesterners should be choosing responsible energy sources. With these considerations in mind, wind power looks like just the thing to reduce our negative impact; especially since it is such an attainable solution to our current pollution. Wind power over the last four years has accounted for 35 percent of all new energy generation in the U.S ; that’s second only to natural gas.

Yet while natural gas development through hydraulic fracturing has been shrouded in controversy over dangers to public health, wind power has no such concerns for human health. Some may claim that wind turbines are unsightly and ruin natural landscapes. Others may find the hum of turning blades to be disruptive. But let us consider the alternative: Being poisoned by unknown chemicals in our water supply that the fracking industry refuses to publicize; or using millions of gallons of water in an extraction technique that leaves us with millions of gallons of toxic wastewater. Call me a martyr, but personally I would be willing to sacrifice a featureless horizon for energy that doesn’t threaten the well-being of our fellow countrymen and women.

And besides, who says wind farms have to be a blemish on the landscape? There are two ways that Minnesotans can look at wind turbines: One way, as unsightly monstrosities that tower over the plains; or the alternative, as visual reminders of our society’s commitment to sustainability, which provide a clean, safe source of energy. You choose, Minnesota.

Luckily for us, Governor Mark Dayton already has. After campaigning on clean energy promises in 2010, he is making the effort to stay consistent with those vows. Less than two weeks after the American Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit Extension Act was proposed, Dayton gave it his full support; as he should, since almost 10 percent of Minnesota’s electricity generation comes from the wind. Our governor was one of twenty three members of the Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition to sign a letter to the heads of Congress asking for extended support of the PTC; thereby ensuring four more years of a flourishing American clean energy market.

Yet more is needed. Our representatives in the House and the Senate have heard from Mark Dayton, but now they need to hear from us. At a time when politicians are slitting throats over party lines, there is no better moment to unite behind a bipartisan bill for clean energy. We can show that, despite our political battles in Washington, Americans are still capable of using democracy to move our nation forward. Voice your opinion of the Production Tax Credit as it fuels our country’s clean energy infrastructure.

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