Wind energy: seizing the opportunity

Wind energy: seizing the opportunity
Over the month of August, while Congress was in recess, I put on quite a few miles driving across the state of South Dakota, spending time in communities large and small and talking to folks about a range of issues. One of the issues that has generated the most interest and excitement – and holds more promise than anything since development of the ethanol industry in the state – is the extraordinary unprecedented prospects for economic development through the expansion of our wind energy industry.

In fact, during a visit to Howard, I hosted a roundtable discussion with industry and community leaders on the future of wind energy development in South Dakota. Howard, like a number of communities across the state, has seen recent economic growth due in part to wind energy. New and expanded businesses, including a wind-blade manufacturing and repair plant and another that services wind turbines, have located in Howard and represent the dramatic positive effect that harnessing this untapped resource can have on our state's economy.

Many of the participants in that roundtable agreed that wind energy should become a "mainstream" part of the electrical grid, rather than an alternative energy source. In Congress, the House of Representatives is taking positive steps toward turning that into reality. Specifically, the recently passed Energy Bill in the House contains many provisions that promote the increased use of wind power in this country and I am proud to have voted for that legislation.


First, the bill extends the placed-in-service date for wind projects for four years, through Dec. 31, 2012. This means that all facilities that are operational by that time will qualify for the production tax credit. This extension will give entrepreneurs and investors more certainty and greater piece of mind as they think big about the future of wind in South Dakota.

Additionally, the bill creates the New Clean Renewable Energy Bonds ("CREBs") Program. It authorizes $2 billion of new clean renewable energy bonds for public power providers and electric cooperatives. Sixty percent of the authorization must be used for qualifying projects of public power providers and 40 percent for qualifying projects of electric cooperatives, which include facilities that generate electricity from renewable resources like wind.

The bill further provides states with the authority and the incentive to implement low-interest loan and grant programs that will help working families purchase energy-efficient appliances, make energy-efficient home improvements, or install solar panels, small wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps.

The bill also creates Qualified Residential Energy Efficiency Assistance bonds that enable the federal government to make grants or low-interest loans for individuals to install wind, solar, or geothermal energy or qualified fuel cell equipment to generate electricity, or to heat or cool water.

And significantly, the bill includes a renewable electricity standard, or RES, that would require 15 percent of electricity generated in this country target to come from new renewable sources by 2020. That is an important and unprecedented victory, and will be a critical incentive for increased wind infrastructure in South Dakota and across the country, similar to the effect that the first renewable fuels standard, or RFS, had in encouraging ethanol production.

The Senate also has passed a significant energy bill and we will soon convene a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two versions of the legislation. It is my hope that, as that process moves forward, we can retain all of the provisions in the House bill that are so important to South Dakota's wind industry and I will work with the other members of our delegation, and other supporters of renewable energy here in the House, to see that that happens.

Anyone who has spent more than a few days in our state knows South Dakota has been blessed with an ample supply of wind. In fact, our pioneering forefathers were experts at capturing and utilizing this wind for generating electricity, pumping water, and a host of other uses. It is high time that we resume harnessing this tremendous resource by becoming a national leader in the development of wind energy resources. Enacting an energy bill like the House of Representatives recently passed would be a great start.

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