This surge of growth in wind energy and elsewhere in the renewable energy industry is partly due to incentives from the federal government, such as the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit. This critical tool supports the growth of clean energy in this country, and has been very successful in helping the wind industry create American jobs, bring down wind energy costs, and build a homegrown, renewable energy supply. This incentive is set to expire at the end of the year, and it needs to be renewed.
Some may ask why we don’t just let the market decide. In some industries, that works–but we want the lights to stay on and heat to be affordable, so the federal government has always played an outsized role in shaping the energy industry. The government has been lending a helping hand to the oil and gas industry for a hundred years, with tax breaks on oil production dating back to the early 20th century. (Even back in the 1800s, the British government subsidized coal, helping fuel England’s industrial revolution.) Over the past several decades, oil and gas companies have received about $490 billion in handouts from the federal government.
We need to level the playing field for renewable energy sources, so we can break free from our harmful reliance on dirty fossil fuels. (As Grist’s Dave Roberts points out, the fossil fuel industry built the field in the first place. And it receives invisible taxpayer subsidies in the form of military support for oil interests and health care costs due to pollution from burning coal and oil.)
When the government supports clean, renewable energy, it’s doing its job as a protector of the public interest. Shifting from polluting energy sources to clean, locally-produced renewable energy protects the health of the American people, keeps our air and water cleaner, improves our national security, and boosts our economy by creating good jobs and new careers for American workers.
The money we invest in renewable energy is an investment in America. It creates American jobs and keeps our energy dollars at home, instead of sending our earnings abroad. The clean economy already employs nearly 3 million people in this country–more than the entire fossil fuel industry–and 32,000 new green jobs have been announced in just the past 6 weeks. Clean energy and efficiency are labor-intensive fields. We need people–not big machines–to build wind turbines, install solar panels, and make homes more energy efficient. (In contrast, the oil industry has fired 10,000 people in the past five years, while pocketing $500 billion in profits.)
The renewable energy industry stands to be a major engine of job growth in the coming decade, if we don’t cut it off at the knees. This tax credit has been allowed to lapse several times since it was launched in 2000, driving away investors every time, slowing new installations, delaying capital investment, and causing layoffs. A consistent federal incentive to support renewable energy provides a certain level of predictability for investors. Once private investors see this important signal and move to get in on the opportunity, clean energy producers can keep the engine moving by hiring and making the clean energy we need.
Now is the time for Congress to redouble its efforts to support American entrepreneurs, American technologies, and American jobs. We have to fight and win a clean energy future made in America. There’s a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives that would extend the tax credit for another four years. Urge your representative to keep our clean energy economy moving forward and support the renewable energy tax credit.
By Peter Lehner, Executive Director, New York City, switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/