By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Clean energy advocates and labor leaders are calling on the U.S. to step up its commitment to wind energy and wind-related manufacturing — or risk losing thousands of jobs to China, Europe and India.

Wind turbines contain hundreds of component parts, providing a variety of manufacturing jobs

American wind urgently needs strong supports, such as long-term investment tax credits and a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), to show investors and domestic and global companies that it believes in the sector, the leaders said at a Monday news conference. A RES would signal that the U.S. wants to incubate developing firms and build everything it needs — from wind towers and blades to the highly evolved nacelles that keep the turbines turning.

Executives from the American Wind Energy Association, the BlueGreen Alliance, the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club spoke at the news conference, where they released a report Winds of Change: A Manufacturing Blueprint for the Wind Industry and announced that the United Steelworkers and the wind association had reached a working agreement on accelerating U.S. wind power.

This show of political muscle comes as Congress is expected to formulate a comprehensive climate and energy bill in July.

The Blueprint outlines how wind has created 85,000 jobs primarily in the last decade and has the potential to create thousands more (especially in manufacturing where the U.S. is underrepresented) while providing a clean, stable domestic source of energy.

“The wind energy industry, which currently employs 18,500 workers in the manufacturing sector, could support tens of thousands of additional jobs manufacturing wind turbines and components if the right policies are put in place,’’ the report says.

The effort has many supporters across the “wind belt” in the plains states and elsewhere, in manufacturing states and those with offshore wind potential.

“This ‘manufacturing blueprint’ is a critical step toward ensuring that we don’t replace our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on Chinese-made wind turbines,” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “With the right policies, clean energy will help revitalize American manufacturing.”

After five years of record-breaking growth, the wind industry is sputtering in 2010, according to the executives speaking on Monday, because the nation lacks a stable wind policy and offers only short-term tax credits and subsidies.

A strong RES — with a target of 25 percent of the nation’s energy to come from clean energy by 2025 — could turn that around, they said, and keep America in contention as a wind innovator, producer and manufacturer.

The blueprint cites a January 2010 report by Navigant Consulting that such a measure could support 274,000 jobs nationwide beyond the current number (of some 85,000 wind sector jobs), more than half of which would be in manufacturing.

Setting a RES or renewable target has worked for other countries and for 30 states, said Rob Gramlich, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, American Wind Energy Association of AWEA . The report calls out some of those success stories, such as Pennsylvania landing the Gamesa wind turbine plant after enacting a state renewable energy target. Nationally, a strong RES could help assure that the U.S. can grow wind generation and broaden the sector, supporting everything from the nuts and bolts companies to the research and development facilities, Gramlich said.

“The quicker we do it (enact a RES), the better,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance. “The longer we wait and confuse the issue the more likely we are to see these industries take root in other countries.”

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, Calif., require upkeep and updating, creating jobs (Photo: Bill Brown)

The wind industry could be a gamechanger in U.S. manufacturing, Foster said. “Getting these policies right will determine in large part whether we grow the manufacturing sector in the country and…whether we deal with the people’s unemployment woes.”

But without a RES, and other assistance called out in the report, such as subsidies awarded to the wind industry under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the U.S. economy could suffer.

American companies would be left unable to retool, reconfigure or expand, Gramlich said, and that would render the nation unable to compete internationally.

Already, the inability of the U.S. wind companies to point to a guiding long-term national policy is hurting America, said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. He recalled a recent discussion with a Suzlon executive who explained that his company could set up in China, India, Europe and many other nations with assurances that the national policy backed wind development for the foreseeable future. But he couldn’t say the same about the U.S., where wind supports have been kept on a short leash.

The speakers all agreed that the U.S. wind industry, despite a stellar performance since 2005, has been buffeted by uncertainty and held hostage by Congress’ failure to pass a comprehensive energy plan.

Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers, said the USW has been on record for 20 years that the U.S. needs to address climate change. Today, the USW sees wind as a way to reinvigorate American manufacturing and build a truly domestic energy source that offers a stable future and keeps the jobs and the expertise in America.

Like all the speakers, Gerard said he favors a comprehensive energy bill that addresses carbon pollution and prioritizes clean energy. But he would not wager on the present Congress being able to push through such a package —  even now, with oil disasters small and large highlighting the need for cleaner and safer sources.

“We want to work for a comprehensive bill.…But I am not so naïve to think that Republicans who apologize for BP having to clean up the mess they created, would be very supportive.”

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