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Critical Moment for Clean Energy

September 24, 2012 By Michelle Hesterberg, Guest Commentary

We still rely primarily on dirty and dwindling sources of energy that pollute our air, contaminate our water, and cause public health problems, like asthma and birth defects. And beyond that, some studies suggest global warming is advancing at a much faster pace than scientists previously anticipated, largely due to our dependence on fossil fuels.

The good news: we have vast clean energy resources in America, from the heat of the sun to the power of the wind. Minnesota’s wind resource could provide nearly 25 times the electricity our state currently needs, according to the American Wind Energy Association. We have the technology and the workforce to harness this clean energy right now.

Yet, critical clean energy tax credits will expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts.

That would be a problem for Minnesota, which currently gets nearly 13 percent of its electricity from wind power, a booming industry that employs over 2000 people across the state. Only three other states in the country get a higher percentage of their power from wind.

With states like Minnesota leading the way, we’ve made significant progress towards renewable energy. In Minnesota, wind farms now power the equivalent of 770,00 homes. This growth has been possible because of state policies, including Minnesota’s renewable energy standard, which requires utilities to get 25 percent of their energy from renewables by 2025, as well as federal financial support in the form of tax credits.

The wind industry is at a critical time in its growth. It’s on its way to being cost-competitive with traditional energy sources like coal and oil, which also have their share of subsidies. The price of wind has dropped 90 percent since 1980. And the jobs are staying here – 60 percent of a wind turbine’s value is now produced in the United States—up from 25 percent in 2005.

But there’s more progress to be made, here in Minnesota and across the country. To continue this growth and finally get the clean energy industries over the finish line, we need federal solutions.

If Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year to extend the PTC and the offshore wind ITC, we risk losing hard-won momentum on clean energy.

Furthermore, if Congress fails to extend these tax credits, we could lose an estimated 37,000 American wind jobs. The uncertainty surrounding the extension of these tax credits has already caused layoffs in Minnesota and across the country. With unemployment high, this just doesn’t make sense. We need to invest in industries like wind energy that will mean real jobs now, with a promise for durability and future growth.

Fortunately, many people agree. Unlike most issues currently facing Congress, wind energy has bipartisan support. Even the Bush administration’s Karl Rove along with some conservative governors in wind producing states support extending tax credits for wind energy.

Still, most anti-tax groups, including the Koch Brothers and their supporters in Congress are campaigning to end these critical incentives.

We cannot afford to cut the legs out from this critical industry.

We know that clean energy is growing local economies, adding jobs, and creating a cleaner future for Minnesotans—and we should continue to invest in its success.

The coming months are an important time for the future of clean energy nationally and in Minnesota. Fortunately, Minnesota’s U.S. Senators Klobuchar and Franken have been supportive of renewable energy in the past. We urge them to help ensure that these clean energy tax credits are renewed as soon as possible.

Michelle Hesterberg is a Federal Field Associate with Environment Minnesota, a statewide, citizen-funded environmental advocacy group working to protect our air, water, and open spaces.

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