Wind energy: S.D. technical school president on edge about PTC extension

While discussions about whether to extend the federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) may at times seem academic in the halls of Congress, they will have very real consequences in Mitchell, S.D., according to Greg Von Wald, President of Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI).

MTI’s wind turbine technology program has about 60 students who are hoping to find jobs in what has been a rapidly growing industry. The question, according to Von Wald (who is also vice president of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association), is whether those potential jobs will be available once the students graduate.

Says a recent story in the Mitchell Daily Republic newspaper, "Von Wald said the tax credit would provide a benefit to the government, not a burden, because of the jobs and other taxes being paid by those who work in South Dakota. ‘That’s one of the main misconceptions about the tax credit,’ he said. ‘If we can continue growth, it would create more in taxes than it would cost and create a net gain in taxes.’"

Several MTI graduates have already found work with Molded Fiber Glass Cos., which manufactures wind turbine blades in Aberdeen, S.D., and is one of the hundreds of companies across the country that will suffer if the PTC is not extended soon.

The Republic article noted that South Dakota’s three members of Congress, Sens. John Thune (R) and Tim Johnson (D) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R) all support extending the credit. It also referred to Rep. Noem’s leadership in spearheading a letter from 18 House freshmen (16 of them Republican) to House leaders urging action on the PTC.

South Dakota was #1 nationwide in 2011 in percentage of electricity generation coming from wind power, at 22.3 percent, according to the AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report.

The PTC provides an income tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of electricity production from utility-scale turbines. It is set to expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it first. A recent study by Navigant Consulting found that extending the Production Tax Credit will allow the industry to grow to 100,000 jobs in just four years, while an expiration would kill 37,000 jobs within a year.

A House bill seeking to extend the PTC has 105 cosponsors, including 24 Republicans, while a similar Senate bill is cosponsored by seven Senators, including three Republicans. PTC extension efforts have received the endorsement of a broad coalition of more than 370 members, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Edison Electric Institute, and the Western Governors’ Association. A PTC extension also has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, and the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, which includes 23 Republican and Democratic Governors from across the U.S. A PTC extension has been endorsed by a number of newspapers across the country, including the Houston Chronicle, The New York Times, the Denver Post, the Daily Oklahoman, and the Toledo Blade.

Tom Gray,