Never in my lifetime has our country faced such widespread challenges that disrupt nearly every aspect of daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned simple tasks like visiting grandchildren or getting a haircut into fraught decisions, and millions of Americans are struggling with loss of income or health complications. There’s no way around it: parts of our economy and civil society have broken down.
There is a silver lining however– breakdowns present an opportunity to rebuild, and if we make the right choices in that rebuild, we can create a cleaner future and tens of thousands of new jobs along the way.
As we are in the fourth annual American Wind Week, wind energy can help us build that future.
Today over 120,000 Americans spread across all 50 states have direct wind jobs, and wind power is one of the few industries creating new manufacturing jobs—over 530 U.S. factories build wind turbine components. And these careers are growing fast: wind turbine technician is the country’s second fastest growing job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Our country is also just beginning to tap into our world-class offshore wind resources. Virginia followed in Rhode Island’s steps this summer when it became the second state to host an offshore wind project, and the first in federal waters. States up and down the East Coast have made substantial offshore wind commitments, and that means significant opportunities for dozens of different professions both along the East Coast and in the Gulf region, where legacy oil and gas energy workers have the skills and experience from building ocean energy infrastructure that are needed for offshore wind projects.
And California may not be far behind. In fact, offshore wind could create up to 83,000 jobs by 2030 and an entirely new domestic supply chain. These are exactly the kinds of once-in-a-generation opportunities we can’t pass up if we want to succeed in our post-pandemic economic recovery.
Wind is also bringing nearly unmatched investment to the rural Wind Belt in America’s heartland, which stretches from Texas up through the Dakotas. Many of these areas have struggled with population decline and retention of skilled young workers, and small tax bases can make funding essential services a challenge. And that was before COVID added new obstacles.
However, wind projects offer rural communities new revenue sources that help them bridge budget shortfalls, invest in the future, and bring young people back home to careers that let them support a family. Every year, wind projects pay over $1.6 billion in state and local taxes and landowner lease payments. These much needed funds help small communities improve their infrastructure, repair roads, hire new teachers, and expand emergency services and law enforcement capacity.
Before the pandemic, American wind power was on track to supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, up from just over seven percent today. While the development pipeline of new wind projects remains large, and guidance earlier this year from the Department of Treasury shored up near-term projects, pandemic-induced challenges remain. Our elected officials can help wind power continue to grow, supplying affordable, clean energy for American families and businesses, while providing a boost to our struggling economy, with simple steps.
First, they can help developers by allowing for alternative financing options to the tax equity market. Reductions in tax equity availability caused by the pandemic have created a situation where credit-worthy wind projects need additional options for securing construction capital. A fix referred to as “direct pay” that allows developers to monetize federal tax credits will provide them with access to the capital needed to continue investing and creating new jobs.
Second, the federal government can preserve the country’s offshore wind progress by extending the sector’s “safe harbor” period to seven years and allowing wind projects to demonstrate a continuous effort to make progress towards completion. The additional time will help offshore wind project developers accommodate delays caused by the pandemic. This move will help protect up to 83,000 jobs and $57 billion in investment by 2030.
Harnessing the winds blowing off our shores and across our plains can help us build a prosperous, clean future. Let’s seize this chance to restore our economy, clean our environment, and help wind build the future.
Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.