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Wednesday, Dec 05 2012 05:19 PM

Local wind giants urge extension of tax credit

BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

An extension to a tax credit for the wind industry has been lumped into the so-called year-end "fiscal cliff," and industry leaders in Kern County are urging politicians to put aside partisan bickering and renew the credit that has helped the wind industry grow for the past 20 years.

"We have no idea whether the federal incentive will continue," said Greg Wetstone, vice president of government affairs for Terra-Gen Power, a renewable energy company with wind turbines in Tehachapi. "We're hopeful there will be a deal as part of the fiscal cliff, but we don't know."

The federal Wind Production Tax Credit is set to expire on Dec. 31. First passed in 1992, the credit knocks off 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of wind energy produced from a business' tax bill. It has been extended every one or two years since 1992, with one exception in 2004 when it was allowed to lapse.

At an editorial board meeting at The Californian on Wednesday, supporters for the credit spoke about how wind energy benefits Kern County and what negative effects the credit's expiration would have.

Opponents of the tax credit have said that after 20 years, the wind industry no longer needs the credit to survive. They have also said it costs too much, pointing to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that a one-year extension will cost taxpayers $12.1 billion.

But supporters argue that ending the tax credit will halt any new growth in the wind energy industry. Wetstone, who called into the editorial board meeting, predicted that there would be no new wind turbine construction in Kern County in 2013 if the credit expires.

The tax credit was a bipartisan issue until recently, Wetstone said. Just this summer, the Senate Finance Committee approved the extension with bipartisan support.

Wetstone added that every other type of energy production has some sort of government support. California also has no special tax credits for the wind energy industry that it could still benefit from should the federal credit expire.

"If this expires, we would be alone in that," he said.

In Kern County, thousands of jobs have been created from wind energy production, said Linda Parker, executive director of the Kern Wind Energy Association. Thousands have come from construction, about 800 from permanent jobs working on the wind turbines and thousands more from indirect jobs such as in hotels and restaurants.

Terra-Gen employs about 130 people at its Tehachapi site, said Dean Landon, general manager at the site. Of those, about 95 percent are people from Tehachapi or Bakersfield. Those people wouldn't get laid off if the tax credit expires, he said. But the site won't be able to expand and add more jobs, he said.

With no new jobs, there will be no need to train new workers, so programs like Kern Community College District's Clean Energy Center will fade away, said Dale Whinery, lead wind tech instructor for the center.

The center trains students in vocational skills for wind, solar and other green energy jobs. Since 2009, the center has graduated 108 students. Thirty-five of those have found jobs in the wind energy industry, Whinery said.

"There's no reason to train wind technicians if there's no jobs," he said.

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