By Jeff Benzak
As the end of the lame-duck session quickly approaches, Congress has brief window of opportunity to work on a winning midterm election issue – clean energy – and in the process flex some bipartisan muscle for American businesses and workers.
How? By immediately passing the EXPIRE Act and extending for at least two years commonsense tax incentives for clean energy and energy efficiency.
The nation’s clean energy tax incentives have already been in limbo for a year, and the fossil fuel industry is lobbying hard to hard kill them outright. But if Congress fails to act on clean energy tax incentives, it will pull the rug out from under a high-growth American industry and keep job-creating businesses rotating in an awkward, economically inelegant cycle of policy uncertainty.
When Congress let tax incentives expire at the end of last year, it pulled the plug on some of our most promising sources for a cleaner and more efficient energy future. It sent mixed messages to the businesses community, and it went against the 70 percent of business leaders in the Midwest and West who said the U.S. should emphasize alternative energy like solar and wind over the production of fossil fuels.
This is what the ongoing policy uncertainty in recent years looks like:
Thousands of Colorado wind energy workers were abruptly laid off when the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind expired, then just as quickly rehired when the credit was reinstated.
Michigan homeowners who could not get a credit for residential energy efficiency improvements delayed for yet another cold winter retrofits like adding insulation to drafty attics. Such credits also impact affordable multi-family housing units, where energy expenses account for a disproportionate percentage of income.
And while waiting for Congress to send a steady market signal for advanced energy manufacturing incentives, solar panel manufacturers postponed reinvesting in their business out of uncertainty.
Members of Congress just off the campaign trail should keep in mind what’s happening on the ground to businesses in their backyard. Beyond clearing up the air we breathe, clean energy is growing the economy and creating good jobs.
Since 2011, E2 has tracked clean energy job announcements in every state in the country expected to create more than 277,000 jobs. In the third quarter alone, more than 18,000 jobs were announced – with both Republican and Democratic districts benefiting almost equally. From July through September 2014, at least 9,000 jobs were announced in red districts, compared to about 7,700 jobs announced in blue districts.
With these kinds of numbers, support for the EXPIRE Act is exactly the kind of bipartisan, business-friendly legislation constituents are demanding, a reality not lost on the national business press.
For instance, Ron Kamen, a solar developer and director of E2’s New York chapter, told The Street that good policies expand high-paying clean energy job opportunities.
Meanwhile, a Forbes story in late August calls strongly on Congress to extend clean energy and energy efficiency tax provisions. And in September, Fortune noted “uncertainty about federal regulatory and tax policy has been a big reason why green energy investments, and job creation, have been slow and sporadic so far.” The Fortune story quotes Jonathan Foster, CFO of energy software services company Nexant and E2’s Northern California chapter director, who says: “Businesses depend on market certainty, and clean energy businesses are no different.”
The EXPIRE Act is precisely the kind of smart legislation that delivers the kind of market signal CFOs require.
In the spring, a story in Fox Business noted that policy is an important element in the creation of clean energy jobs, singling out the PTC for wind energy and the impact its on-again, off-again implementation has on jobs numbers. In a lead story in late August, the Energy Guardian echoed that message.
More recently, E&E covered E2’s third-quarter jobs report release in November. E&E noted the majority of jobs announced by the clean energy industry in the third quarter were in Republican districts – but constituents in both parties would be hurt if Congress fails to renew expiring tax incentives for renewable energy.
“The election is over. Now it’s time to live up to the stump-speech promises,” E2 executive director Bob Keefe said in the story. “One easy way to create jobs and drive economic growth in both red and blue states alike is by moving quickly to extend clean energy and energy efficiency tax incentives and other smart policies.”
While national business press in New York and Washington take the big-picture view, the most compelling cases for immediately passing the EXPIRE Act come from the boots on the ground, in states like Iowa, where Terry Van Huysen, general manager of TPI Composites, a wind manufacturer that employs nearly 1,000 people, said the Wind PTC is crucial.
“The extension to the PTC is very important to companies like ours to ensure that demand is going to be there,” he said. “We can continue to work on being competitive which would mean certainly more jobs.”
Jeff Benzak is E2’s press secretary.