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April 04, 2012

Let Success Breed Success

It's not every day that you'll find me agreeing with an executive from BP, but Katrina Landis, the CEO of BP's Alternative Energy division, was exactly right when she said last month that it would be a mistake to allow the federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) to expire at the end of this year: "It's a really compelling case of the government incentivizing the development of an industry ... that is actually really working."

Congress has already missed multiple chances to extend the PTC, which has solid support in the House but has struck out in the Senate. There's still hope that a bipartisan effort will rectify the situation -- after all, the wind blows in both red states and blue states (actually, the red states might have an edge there), and the wind industry employs thousands of American workers -- whose jobs would be directly threatened by letting the PTC expire.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Because we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot by putting the brakes on both a growing industry and an important alternative energy source. According to the American Wind Industry Association, U.S. manufacturing of wind turbines has grown twelvefold over the last six years. Iowa already generates 20 percent of its power from wind, and the Department of Energy has estimated that our entire country could get 20 percent of its power from wind energy alone by 2030. And that's a conservative estimate.

Fossil-fuel supporters in Congress and elsewhere (who tend to be the same politicians that receive fossil-fuel support in the form of campaign cash) have done their best to demonize renewable energy lately, but their rhetoric is flying in the face of the facts. The value of solar photovoltaic installations in the U.S. grew from $5 billion in 2010 to $8.4 billion in 2011. Solar power is a growing sector, and that growth is attracting investors as varied as Warren Buffet, Google, and Bank of America.

And it's not just private investors that are voting with their dollars. The Army Corps of Engineers, that citadel of progressivism, announced that it plans to award $7 billion in contracts for large-scale renewable and alternative energy projects to help the Army reach its goal of having 25 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2025.

Wind and solar energy aren't just the future -- they are the growing, vibrant "right now" of our energy economy, and their success will breed even more success -- if we let it.  Alternatively, we could go on disproportionately subsidizing fossil fuels that harm our health, national security, and environment and add insult to injury by actively discouraging development of the energy sectors that will eventually allow us to leave fossil fuels behind.

I'm sure most of us -- maybe even some oil-company executives -- can agree on which is the wiser course.

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