It’s the economy, stupid.
That campaign phrase from five presidential cycles ago rings true for us Iowans after two weeks of ratcheted rhetoric from both sides of the wind energy tax credit argument. The campaigns of President Obama and Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney have brought to the nation’s attention the issue of whether or not to extend the federal wind energy production tax credit. No state stands to benefit more than does Iowa should the tax credit be extended. And no state economy will suffer more should Congress allow the credit to expire.
Today there are approximately 400 wind turbine component manufacturers and wind-related businesses in 43 states across America— companies that design and create parts for, and construct, operate and maintain the 260-foot tall windmills dotting our cornfields. Of those 400 businesses, the Iowa Wind Energy Association (IWEA) reports that 200 companies have locations in Iowa. Every one of those 200 businesses employs Iowans; credible estimates report up to 7,000 full-time jobs. That means paychecks for families who buy locally to put food on tables and gas in cars and pay mortgages and taxes and send children to neighborhood schools.
All of Iowa benefits from wind energy because while the turbine manufacturers are located primarily in eastern and central Iowa, the wind farms are in rural Iowa, primarily in the north and west parts of our state. Wind energy is economic development in Iowa.
And, its impact is growing. According to IWEA Executive Director Harold Prior: “In 2008, Iowa ranked fifth in capacity. Today we’ve grown to number two, only behind Texas.”
In my 30 years of practicing energy law, I have never witnessed growth by any type of energy like wind energy’s growth over the past decade.
Regrettably, Washington’s zero sum game of politics has effectively stopped wind energy development in Iowa and elsewhere. Because Congress hasn’t extended the production tax credit for wind generation owners, no turbine sales are projected in the U.S. for the next year. None. Without extension of the tax credit, the wind industry will not grow. Investors are waiting to see what Congress does.
While Congress waits, Iowa suffers. On Aug. 20, Cedar Rapids wind energy manufacturer Clipper Windpower laid off 174 employees, reducing their workforce by one third. Local news reports that most of Clipper's employees — and layoffs — are believed to be in Cedar Rapids, where the company manufactures its Liberty wind turbines.
Led by Charles Grassley, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee recently passed an extension of the tax credit on a nonpartisan 19-5 vote. Even if the full Senate takes up the extension after its August recess, the U.S. House won’t discuss an extension until after the November election. The best hope of moving forward wind energy is a lame-duck Congress – not much comfort there.
The wind energy industry isn’t looking for a long-term handout from Washington. Experts believe it needs no more than five more years of federal tax incentives to be able to stand on its own. When you cut through the political charges and counter attacks, Obama and Romney both support producing more domestic energy. Obama favors the wind tax credits and promotes an “all-of-the-above” strategy of increasing wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas and clean coal energy. (barackobama.com/energy-info). Romney opposes the tax credit and wants to expand nuclear, create a pipeline for oil from Canada, and streamline regulation to allow more domestic production of traditional energy including coal, oil, and natural gas (mittromney.com/issues/energy).
Because Iowa is a battleground state, we’ll see the candidates and their surrogates often over the next two months. No matter who you support, tell their teams that Iowa needs the extension of federal wind energy tax credits -- now.
This isn’t a narrow issue and it isn’t stupid. It is about our economy.
Sheila K. Tipton is an attorney at Belin McCormick Attorneys At Law in Des Moines. She represents energy, telecommunications and water public utilities, and other business entities.