Wind energy PTC good for Montana

Bob Winger’s recent editorial arguing against the wind production tax credit ignores the purpose of this incentive and immense economic and environmental benefits that wind energy provides to Montana.

The production tax credit has helped Montana develop a new industry that creates hundreds of jobs and contributes millions of dollars to Montana’s economy. Wind energy also makes us more energy independent and helps keep our air and water clean while reducing global warming emissions.

The impetus for the wind production tax credit is similar to existing tax incentives for other energy industries.

In 1992, Congress enacted the production tax credit to expand renewable energy development, lower energy costs, and make America more energy independent. Prior to 1992, the government had a long history of subsidizing coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. Congress created the production tax credit to provide similar incentives for renewable energy that were already in place for conventional fuels. The production tax credit passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate. Today, this tax credit continues to have bipartisan backing and is rightfully supported by Montana’s entire federal delegation.

As intended, the production tax credit has helped to create quality jobs and boost state and local economies. The wind industry employs over 75,000 people across the United States. In Montana, wind projects built in Wheatland, Glacier, Toole, and Cascade counties have created over 1,000 direct jobs, made $1.5 billion in capital investments, and contributed nearly $10 million in annual property tax payments to local communities. The Shawmut wind farm that broke ground two weeks ago will provide 75 new construction jobs in Wheatland County. Mr. Winger ignores these numbers when he says that wind energy and the production tax credit have not delivered economic benefits to Montana.

The production tax credit is only effective if there is a good wind resource. Wind developers only get the 2.2 cents tax credit for each kilowatt-hour of electricity that a project actually produces. Everyone knows that Montana is bursting at the seams with wind energy potential. Montana has the second highest wind resource potential in the U.S. In fact, Montana has enough wind energy potential to meet our own energy needs 70 times over. The production tax credit is helping us develop this vast potential—which is helping drive the state’s economy, not stalling it.

Montana’s wind development also has helped protect our environment by reducing air and water pollution. Wind energy does not emit mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, or pollute our water with arsenic and lead. Wind requires no pollution controls because it produces no emissions and does not contaminate drinking water. Contrary to Mr. Winger’s argument, expanding wind development does, in fact, reduce carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. Wind energy itself does not generate any CO2 emissions and it is often backed up by natural gas, which has half the greenhouse gas emissions as coal.

Eliminating the wind production tax credit will not help make coal more competitive in today’s depressed energy markets. A boom in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in places like the Bakken formation in eastern Montana has caused historically low natural gas prices. Cheap natural gas, not wind, is out-competing coal in the current energy market.

Rather than helping coal, eliminating the production tax credit would pull the rug out from an industry that provides much-needed jobs, strengthens our economy, and helps reduce air and water pollution. New wind projects built this year in Montana will have created 25 permanent jobs, employed more than 400 construction workers, and attracted about half a billion dollars in capital investment to the state. Each of these projects demonstrates the on-the-ground benefits that the wind production tax credit helps propel. This is money well spent in my book.

By Kyla Maki is the Clean Energy Program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center.