ELLSWORTH, ILLINOIS — Kansas cattleman Pete Ferrell almost lost his ranch in the recent drought that ravaged much of the United States, but he credits a series of 100-meter tall wind turbines situated on his property for saving his business.
“In my case, it doubled my income stream, and it helped me essentially weather the storm," Ferrell said. "It was essential in my ability to maintain my livelihood.”
Wind farms like Ferrell’s are now a common sight throughout the United States. This alternative energy source helps power America while providing an alternative source of income for landowners.
“The wind blows, even during a drought, and it may be our best drought-resistant crop we have, and a lot of farmers and ranchers are really waking up to that fact,” Ferrell said.
But while farmers are waking up to that fact, so are U.S. lawmakers, who scrutinize programs like the Federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit when attempting to end tax breaks to close budget deficits.
The credit, which gives a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour tax break to renewable energy production facilities, was shelved until last-minute negotiations brought the program back to life in January.
For Ferrell, the program is critical.
“The production tax credit drove the first project that I worked on, on the ranch, and it was essential to seeing that completed,” he said.
The Production Tax Credit, which has been offered off and on to renewable energy providers since 1992, is set to expire again at the end of this year. Ferrell says with it go jobs and the stability of the industry.
“The wind industry tends to bounce with the production tax credit, immediately drops off and jobs are lost, and there’s a huge sucking sound as money is pulled out of the industry," Ferrell said. "Then, when it’s renewed, investments are renewed.”
The credit helps companies like EDP Renewables, the third largest provider of wind farms in the U.S., compete with more traditional sources of energy, like coal and gas, says project management director Erin Bowser.
“All sources of energy do get subsidies from the government, both federal and locally, so we want there to be a level playing field, and we know we can succeed if that exists,” she said.
At Wind Power 13, the industry’s largest trade show in the United States, the incoming CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, Tom Kiernan, told attendees his priority is getting the Production Tax Credit renewed, and encouraging lawmakers to develop longer term tax policies.
In the meantime, energy companies are taking advantage of the current program, which grants the credit to facilities that begin construction on new wind farms by the end of the year.