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Advocates want wind energy tax credits extended

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A wind energy producer, labor unions and environmental groups joined political leaders Downtown on Monday to push for legislative changes that they say will strengthen the clean energy industry and jobs tied to it.

Much of the focus was on the federal wind energy production tax credit that will run out Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it.

“It would be a huge mistake to let it expire,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Forest Hills Democrat, adding inaction by the lame-duck Congress could wipe out 4,000 wind energy jobs in Pennsylvania and 37,000 nationwide, according to industry estimates.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also spoke in favor of the credit.

Wind farm developers have delayed projects and laid off hundreds of workers across the state in recent months, due in large part to the uncertain future of the subsidy valued at $12 billion. While it has some bipartisan support, critics view the production credit as wasteful spending and a manipulation of the energy market.

Sharon Pillar, program manager for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, said state leaders could boost the solar energy industry and correct an oversupply by raising the amount of sun-generated electricity that utilities are required, under a 2004 law, to include in their supply for customers.

The solar industry employs four times the number of workers per megawatt than fossil fuel-generation businesses do, Pillar said.

Higher solar requirements would raise the value of energy credits and lower consumers' costs because the sun's power flows strongest in the grid during high-usage times when power is at peak prices. Bills in the state House and Senate would increase solar requirements.

Even so, Tanya McCloskey, Pennsylvania's acting consumer advocate, said any cost benefit for consumers comes down to how much solar power costs to produce, compared to natural gas-generated electricity.

Natural gas prices “right now are in a trough. That may not continue,” McCloskey said.

Terrence Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, which represents utilities, said solar advocates want to accelerate the ramp-up of generation in coming years from 0.051 percent of a utility's supply to 0.15 percent, for example.

The law requires solar to be 0.5 percent of supply by 2021. Steps to raise the cost of credits would increase consumers' bills, Fitzpatrick said.

“This really is not sound government policy, when you consider this all stems from a mandate,” he said.

Fred Redmond, the United Steelworkers International vice president, said about 118,600 Pennsylvanians work in clean energy-related jobs, and more than 182,000 when jobs in construction and other fields are counted.

The USW represented 1,000 workers at wind energy company Gamesa Energy at one point, he said, but that's down to about 425.

Wind producer EverPower Wind Holdings Inc. in the Strip District runs two generation sites in Cambria County and expects two more, one in Cambria and one in Somerset County, to be operating this year.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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