Oregon, U.S. Risk Losing Wind Jobs to Other Nations
GRANTS PASS, Ore. - Like the wind itself, the wind energy industry has blown hot and cold in Oregon. Some blame the lack of effort in Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for alternative energy, set to expire in about four months.
The standstill affects businesses like Met One Instruments, Grants Pass, which makes weather sensors and monitoring equipment. Product manager Rob Beckius says wind farms have been good customers - but he worries the U.S. is losing business as developers choose to take it to places where more favorable winds are blowing.
"Now what we're seeing is, a lot of our customers are starting to not really put the brakes on projects, but they're moving into different areas. We see a lot of sales going into Canada right now - just because Canada has a stable energy policy, which is what we're lacking now."
In Oregon, an application is pending to put about 300 more wind turbines in Morrow County in the Gorge. But in Idaho, a developer with plans for three wind projects cancelled them last week, saying they could not be finished in time to make use of the Production Tax Credit before it expires.
Dave Rosenberg, vice president of communications for the international wind development company Gamesa, says his company feels the uncertainty, laying off 165 people this month. He says it isn't too late to keep the PTC in place, and predicts it would save thousands of U.S. jobs.
"The cycle time for a wind project is 12 to 18 months. By passing the PTC now and not waiting until the lame-duck (Congress), we can still have a very positive impact on 2013 orders."
Its detractors see the Production Tax Credit as a handout. Beckius disagrees, pointing to an easy fix that would change that perception: tying the credit to performance.
"Yes, we can continue to support the industry and help it get on its feet, but it has to show improvements in efficiency. It has to show improvements in production as it goes along, so it gives the developers and the manufacturers targets to aim for and to hit. Without that, we're stalled in the situation we find ourselves in right now."
Wind developers say the PTC is no different than tax credits offered to other industries, and has spurred growth and technology and helped reduce the cost of wind energy. In Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden have been its most vocal Oregon supporters.