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Jobs on the line as wind tax credit hangs in the breeze

Trucks line up with turbine components for a wind farm outside Elwood, Indiana. (Photo by Dan Ferber / Midwest Energy News)

ELWOOD, Ind.—Every week this fall, 170 workers will toil in the farm fields north of Elwood, Indiana. But they’re not growing corn or soybeans.

Instead, a major construction project is under way on these 1,700 acres of central Indiana farmland. The goal: build more than 100 wind turbines, each 30 stories tall, and get them running by midnight on December 31, when the wind production tax credit expires.

On Monday, the workers at the Wildcat wind farm looked like they had their work cut out for them. Just six of the planned 125 turbines were completed. Huge steel towers gleamed from nearby cornfields, like giant beanstalks, while gray blades, each the length of a 15-story building, sat on the ground like wayward gliders.

At a large gravel-lined construction site, Mike Behringer, construction manager for White Construction, a Clinton, Indiana, company that’s building the first phase of the Wildcat wind farm, explained to a small crowd of journalists what it takes to build a large wind farm like this one.

What it takes, Behringer said, is a whole lot of construction.

Access roads have to be built into farm fields; foundations have to be excavated. To hold up a single turbine it takes 400 cubic yards of concrete and 36 tons of rebar—meaning the entire wind farm will use enough concrete to pour a 3-foot-wide, 4-inch-thick sidewalk from central Indiana to St. Louis. Each of the five sections of each 300-foot tower is transported to the site on a semi, then stacked in place with the sort of crane used to build skyscrapers.

The nacelle—a fiberglass-encased box with more than 70 tons of equipment inside, including the electricity-generating components of the turbine—is placed atop the tower. Then each of the 160-foot blades must be mounted on top of the tower.

Mike Behringer (Photo by Dan Ferber)

All this work means jobs, and lots of them, Behringer said. One hundred seventy people, including iron workers, crane operators, laborers, and linemen are all employed building the first phase of the Wildcat wind farm, which will have the capacity to produce 200 MW of energy.

But the work on the Wildcat wind farm could come to a screeching halt on December 31. White Construction is racing the clock to get all 125 turbines built by then so the project’s developer, Chicago-based E.ON Climate and Renewables, can qualify the turbines for the 2.2 cents tax credit for every kWh of electricity produced.

Behringer said he’s “very confident” that White will meet that deadline. But the fate of the second, third, and fourth phases of the planned project, with more than 550 MW of additional capacity and more than 200 additional turbines, rises and falls with the wind production tax credit.

Unless the tax credit is renewed, Behringer said, “there are no projects and no jobs from the beginning of the year on out.”

Jobs on the line

The workers building wind farms like the Wildcat project are not the only ones employed by the industry. Far from it, said Tom Conway, Jr., regional program manager for the BlueGreen Alliance for Indiana and Illinois.

In Indiana alone, the wind industry also supports 14 different companies that make wind turbine components, including Brevini, which makes gearboxes in Muncie; Global Blade Technology, which makes turbine blades at a former Whirlpool facility in Evansville; and ATI Casting Service in La Porte, which makes large ductile iron castings for the turbines, Conway said at a press conference Friday in Indianapolis.

The same story is repeated nationwide, according to a report released yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News). If you count the supply chain, each 250 MW wind farm project will support 1,079 jobs in manufacturing, construction engineering, sales, management, and other fields. About 75,000 Americans already work in the wind industry, the group reported.

Noel Davis, left, and Andy Melka lead a media tour of a wind farm construction site near Elwood, Indiana. (Photo by Dan Ferber)

And there’s room for more suppliers, Noel Davis said at the press conference. Davis is the chief executive officer of Vela Gear Systems, a company that plans to manufacture large industrial gear boxes for wind turbines near Marion, Indiana, just a few miles from the Wildcat wind farm.

Right now, there are 2,000 wind turbines going in each year in the United States, he said. They’re being built in part to meet the requirements of state laws that require a certain percentage of electricity be generated from renewable sources within a couple of decades. “That’s 2,000 30-story wind turbines each year for the next 20 years. “There’s a huge market,” Davis said.

However, European countries and China can and do make wind turbine components, and their governments subsidize the wind industry. That means that without the production tax credit, “it’s not a level playing field,” Davis said, and U.S. wind jobs could migrate abroad.

Wind on the dole?

Conservative groups have spoken out against extending the wind production tax credit. In a letter to Congress, Americans for Prosperity and 63 other conservative groups argued that the wind industry has become too dependent on the production tax credit. Americans for Prosperity was launched by David Koch and another board member of Koch Industries, which operates oil refineries and about four thousand miles of oil pipeline.

Mitt Romney has also come out against extending the wind production tax credit.

When the wind production tax credit was discontinued in 2000, 2002, and 2004, wind installations dropped between 73% and 93% [pdf], and with them all the associated jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group representing the wind industry.

“When AWEA says 37,000 jobs are threatened because of the loss of the production tax credit, these are real jobs and real union members whose livelihoods are threatened,” Conway said. In fact, with the PTC extension in doubt, already orders for components have slowed and plants in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Iowa have begun laying off workers, Conway said.

“We have a choice between losing 37,000 jobs and saving 25,000 jobs,” Conway said. “It’s not much of a choice.”

Comments (11)

The PTC needs to be stopped. We have been subsidizing the wind industry since the late 1970’s and we still have an unreliable, financially unsustainable, environmentally devastating industry. I always enjoy the references to the Koch Brothers while the pro-wind journalists and lobbyists ignore the fact that this industry was spawned by Enron. The job numbers the AWEA claims will be lost include “indirect jobs” – whatever those are, As far as achieving energy independence is concerned, just yesterday a nacelle from Spain floated in to Duluth harbor, was transported to Iowa City. Why this could not be fabricated IN Iowa is a mystery since the company that manufactured it in Spain has a plant that fabricates the same thing here. The industry appears to be built upon misinformation and outright deceit, taking advantage of a largely ignorant public by claiming these things will reduce our dependence upon foreign oil and stem global warming. We don’t use oil to generate electricity and turbines do nothing to address global climate change. What they will do is enrich Wall Street and the Corporations they serve while wreaking havoc on ecosystems by killing bats and displacing necessary birds. If the public knew the actual production numbers and the actual costs associated with wind, the industry would have died a long time ago. I’m tired of paying for this nonsense. If we want sustainability this is not the way to achieve it. I want sustainability so the wind industry needs to be wrestled to the ground – ended.

By Paloma on Sep 12, 2012

Interestinig point but does the oil producing companies really care when it cost less than one American dollor to pump a barrel of out out of the ground? I think not why doesn’t countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia so on and so on care? Because of this very point. Oil is cheep as air to them. But to contries who rely on it, it is worth spilling the blood of it’s people.

Why isn’t there solar pannels on every home that it is feasable in the US…Every oportunity to bring change in the long run it is worth it. A painful begining but in the end it where it will count the most.

Well Paloma what are you doing to be apart of inovation in America?

By Anja on Sep 12, 2012

Paloma and Anja, thanks for your comments. It would be interesting to see a wind industry representative tackle Paloma’s argument, which contains several assertions that are debatable. I’ll address one: the statement that “we have been subsidizing the industry since the late 1970s.” The renewable energy PTC actually began in 1992 as part of a bill signed by President George H.W. Bush (see http://bit.ly/PdRach), and it has been stopped and restarted several times, with months-long gaps. The intermittent nature of the PTC has helped drive booms and busts in the industry, as indicated in the story.

By Dan Ferber on Sep 13, 2012

I know they are working hard to get they up and running, I see them transporting many towers and blades every day out on the interstate. Probably going to be pretty slow next year. That is a lot of transportation jobs lost. I understand some people don’t like the turbines, but personally I really like the million plus dollars they pay our county in taxes each year. I breathe cleaner air and pay less taxes; what is not to like.

By malcreado on Sep 13, 2012

the notion that these Green energy subsidies needs to be stopped is akin to saying we need to stop breathing in my opinion. Let me explain Mr. Paloma;

First off, how many Billions of Dollars are exported overseas to buy oil annually?? approx. #350 BILLION this year alone. How many lives ( look at Libya) will be lost by OUR fellow countrymen that protect “our” oil supply?? There is current technology avaialble for CNG ( Compressed Natural Gas) vehicle, electric vehicles and hybrids – we just have to make the decision to do this – How many jobs would this create?

Secondly, the oil AND Coal industry have been sudsidized for over 100 years – if you want to stop subsidies, why not the ones that have been in place for so long??

As for us “not using oil” for energy, how much oil is needed to move the coal??? how much oil is used to run our infrastructure???

As for the killing birds, there are more killed flying into skyscrapers than by Wind Turbines AND the industry is doing amazing things to advance technology ( the EXACT reason the US should be leading htis) to prevent any bird fatalaties.

Regardless of the fact that Global warming is real or not shouldn’t even be part of this conversation – the conversation should be about the points laid out above –
Because as a country we can gain COMPLETE energy independence AND not be beholden to any foreign country or company – imagine the peace of mind we would have then?

By windman4US on Sep 13, 2012

there was an article posted on this media outlet on 08-30-2012 discussing the Prairie State Generating faciltiy in Marissa, IL. For the record, this COAL facility cost $2.8125 Million per MW to build – this wind farrm will have COST LESS than $ 1.6 Million per MW – granted the wind is a variable, but with the coal you will have the following in the future -purchasing the coal, handling the coal ( plant maintenance) coal ash ponds ( that are very dangerous – look at TVA spill) future regulations to keep air clean, etc… etc.. etc… versus the fact that wind is FREE…..

By windman4US on Sep 13, 2012

I don’t understand how can Paloma state there is no affect on climate change when the production of electricity via the wind is a carbon offset. Similar to planting a tree for flying on a Delta flight, this green production of electricity allows us not to have to burn coal to produce it. That my friend is a direct and positive impact on climate change. It therefore also reduces our dependence on foreign oil and global warming.
As for other claims Paloma made, i seriously doubt that he/she saw a nacelle float into Duluth harbor from Spain. did they follow the ship? Nacelles for Spanish companies are manufactured in PA.

By Neil on Sep 14, 2012

of course i don’t know if the nacelle construction will continue in PA if the PTC expires. Similar to the IA and other manufacturing sites that have already announced closures due to PTC uncertainty, they may well close also. I think those jobs may be considered indirect, but will likely be considered unemployed workers when the PTC expires Paloma.

By Neil on Sep 14, 2012

I strongly disagree with Paloma. Having been in the wind industry for over a decade and having seen the “Direct” impact on the local economy when a farm is introduced into the area.

Most often, these areas are on the cusp of poverty, with NO plan for revival. The economic distress is often quite apparent to be honest. Contributing factors being everything from droughts to factory closings, costing thousands of jobs in their wake.

Just the influx of sales tax, property tax, road use permits, building permits, etc., brings the associated community back above water, with a renewed enthusiasm for the growth and longevity of the community and it’s future generations.

I have seen unemployed folks, who were on welfare in one form or another, rebound and become PROUD fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and prouder AMERICANS because this AWFUL INDUSTRY is so economically unsound!

No Paloma, the wind energy industry will not replace our need for oil,natural gas, coal, etc., but it’s a damn site better than being totally dependent on imported resources for our energy needs.

I for one truly hope they extend the PTC’s. In doing so, I (along with thousands of others in the industry) will continue to be able to pay for our bills and offer our children a better future.

By Bill Burns on Sep 14, 2012

Paloma. It’s called free trade if you haven’t heard of it before. If you stop a turbine part, then stop Mercedes cars or parts from japan or Germany for medical equipment. But maybe some people out there are so smart and well off that they don’t care about America. If that’s so. Than leave! Every country in the world imports something from somewhere. The amount of jobs is not just the construction workers. It is the MA and PA shops that sells food, tires, gas etc. Plus the countless other companies that supply equipment. Cat, John Deere, Vermeer, case etc. I guess Paloma has never heard of these American made companies. Please understand. Construction made the USA the USA. People from all over the world flocked here to make a better life for there families. Ellis island has Alot of names.

By Bryn Hecimovich on Sep 14, 2012

I’m from germany and i was shocked about the comments of Paloma. Because the statements are just wrong and written with a certanity that is fritghtening. But thanks to all the others!!! Thumbs up for a clear mind!!!

By Chris_h on Sep 23, 2012