Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter – who was instrumental in putting the building blocks in place for both wind development and the associated supply chain in the state – says Colorado's employment base could be dealt a devastating blow if the production tax credit (PTC) is not extended beyond this year.
Ritter tells NAW that although most of the Colorado delegation is working to extend the incentive, the chances of the PTC being extended before a lame-duck Congress in November are ‘even money.’
He is pulling for a three- or four-year extension of the PTC but acknowledges that it is difficult to predict what will happen. In the interim, activities related to planning and wind development ‘have come to a screeching halt.’
‘It's a shame,’ he says. ‘Too many people are against the tax credit because they view it as a tax increase.’
More than most, however, Ritter understands full well how much Colorado stands to lose if the PTC is allowed to expire. After all, he was instrumental in bringing turbine manufacturing giant Vestas to the state.
However, all of that good work could be undone: In January, Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel said the company would lay off about 1,600 U.S. employees if the PTC expires.
And much of the impact, Ritter assumes, would be felt in Colorado, where Vestas employs more than 1,500 workers among three production and manufacturing plants.
Ritter, who did not seek re-election in 2010, was elected in 2006 and now serves as director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. He says the state's impressive returns were largely the result of its aggressive renewable energy policies. In fact, during Ritter's four-year term, he signed 57 bills relating to clean energy and bolstered the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS).
Colorado became the first state with a voter-approved RPS in 2004 with the passage of Amendment 37, which set a 10% by 2015 goal. In 2007, the RPS was doubled to 20% by 2020. The mandate has since been raised to 30% by 2030.
‘When I first became governor, there was less than 275 MW of wind installed. Now, we'll have 2,000 MW by the end of the year,’ Ritter says.
However, Colorado's aggressive renewable energy stance does not figure to sustain wind development in the state. That's because its utilities have surpassed near-term requirements, therefore decreasing the need for near-term wind development.
According to SNL Energy, Colorado is currently at 11.2% renewables penetration, well above the 7% mark required for 2012, and nearly meeting the 15% by 2015 mandate.
There is good news out there, Ritter insists. For example, wind energy is now cost-competitive with other energy sources, such as coal.
‘The point is that those who say wind is much more expensive than coal-fired energy are mistaken,’ he says. ‘For a variety of reasons – better technology, broader deployment and perhaps oversupply – the price curve on wind has come down significantly, and the naysayers are wrong.’
And the states that have embraced clean energy through renewable energy standards have benefited. According to Ritter, wind energy has been an economic boon to farmers along Colorado's eastern plains. In some cases, landowners hosting wind turbines are getting $5,000 per turbine.
He urges the wind industry to keep fighting. The initiative to extend the PTC represents a tough political battle, and the sector needs to understand its role in moving policy forward.
‘Clean energy is just not a policy question, it's a politics question,’ Ritter says.