Jay Chesshir: Wind Energy Sector In Arkansas Hangs In The Balance

by Talk Business & Politics staff (staff2@talkbusiness.net) 9 views 

Editor’s note: Jay Chesshir, the author of this opinion article, is the President and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In the past decade, Arkansas has become a manufacturing powerhouse for wind energy.

While other manufacturing sectors struggled through the recession, major wind manufacturers relocated to our state, creating good, high-paying jobs.

Now a critical federal tax incentive for wind energy is set to expire in less than a month. If Congress doesn’t act soon, Arkansas wind businesses and manufacturing may soon expire with it.

Last week, I traveled to our nation’s capital to meet face-to-face with members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation about our clean energy future. Together with other chamber CEOs from across the nation, as part of the non-partisan network, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, I stressed that clean energy is a critical economic development tool for our state.

For our wind manufacturers here at home, the big issue on the table is the wind Production Tax Credit. The PTC is significant in our component manufacturers being competitive in the global marketplace and retaining well-paying jobs for our communities and state.

In 2008, LM Wind Power, the world’s leading supplier of rotor blades for wind turbines, opened its North American headquarters right here in Little Rock.  Shortly thereafter, Nordex, a major producer of turbine components, set up shop in Jonesboro. In 2011, these companies and other wind-related businesses supported upwards of 2,000 jobs in Arkansas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

As Congress waivers on whether to extend this important tax incentive, our manufacturers are suffering the consequences. In August, LM Wind Power announced it would lay off some 200 workers in Little Rock due to uncertainty around the Production Tax Credit.

Allowing the tax credit to expire at the end of this year would slow wind projects even further, decreasing orders for our manufacturers, and resulting in even more job losses.

In fact, it is estimated that some 37,000 jobs nationwide could be lost by the first quarter of 2013 if the Production Tax Credit is omitted from Congress’ upcoming grand bargain.

Arkansas is an important state in the wind supply chain. Our unmatched workforce, logistics, major shipping roads and train routes, and cost of business allow us to easily service nearby states where wind resources are strong. World-class wind manufacturers have already pledged more than $360 million in investment to our state. Failing to extend the Production Tax Credit now would handcuff our manufacturers and prevent future investment.

I applaud Arkansas’ Congressional delegates for supporting an extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit for our manufacturers and small businesses. The future of Arkansas’ wind energy sector — and the vitality of wind energy nationwide — may soon be decided by this critical vote.