On Thursday, President Obama will visit TPI Composites, a wind manufacturer in Newton, Iowa (population, 15,254). There, he will reiterate his support for the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal support program that has helped drive wind’s rapid expansion in the U.S. The PTC is now in peril, as Congress appears unlikely to renew it when it expires at the end of this year. The loss of the PTC would put tens of thousands of current jobs — and almost 100,000 future jobs [PDF] — at risk.
Newton’s experience is illustrative, so let’s recount a little history.
Newton used to be the “washing machine capital of the world,” with five washing machine manufacturers. One by one they closed, until there was only Maytag, which at its height employed around 4,000 Newtonians. Then, in 2006, Maytag was the subject of a bidding war. On one side was Chinese manufacturer Haier Group, in partnership with none other than former Romney employer Bain Capital (Romney was gone by then). On the other was Whirlpool.
Whirlpool won, but it would have been vulture capitalism either way. The Maytag plant was summarily shuttered and the jobs sent out of state.
Manufacturing jobs return on the wind, with bipartisan support
It’s not an unusual story in Iowa, which is a leading wind-power state. Almost 19 percent of the state’s power came from wind in 2011 and the industry employs some 6,000-7,000 Iowans. According to wind industry estimates, since the state passed a renewable energy standard in 1983, some $5 billion in wind investment has flooded the state.
Unsurprisingly, these developments have left wind power with broad bipartisan support in Iowa. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has defended the wind industry and the PTC against attacks from the right. Even Iowa Rep. Steve King (R), one of the most notoriously bigoted right-wing nutbags in all of Congress, has said, “Now is the time for stability in the wind industry, and the PTC offers just that.” When they were in the state, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Thaddeus McCotter (remember him?) all posed next to a wind-turbine blade made by none other than TPI Composites, to show their support for the industry.
(Side bar: A new analysis [PDF] shows that “adding more wind power to the electric grid could reduce wholesale market prices by more than 25 percent in the Midwest region by 2020.”)
But Romney hates wind
Despite support from Iowa Republicans for wind (and despite that turbine photo-op), Mitt Romney has expressed only contempt for the industry. He would end federal support for solar and wind alike, technologies that, he has said, “make little sense for the consuming public but great sense only for the companies reaping profits from taxpayer subsidies.” (Y’know, like Iowa’s own TPI Composites, the 700 people it employs, and the town it saved.)
And here he is in Colorado, smirking about the wind industry losing 10,000 jobs since 2009. That’s true, of course — it’s gone from a high of 85,000 to around 75,000 now — but mainly because the industry is nervous about the future of the PTC. Which Romney wants to kill for good. Thus insuring far greater job losses.
The fact is, if Republicans win Congress and Romney becomes president, all federal support for clean energy will dry up and Newton, along with other Midwestern towns that have been revitalized by wind, will suffer yet another devastating blow. I wonder if Iowa voters — sitting in one of 2012’s most important swing states — were thinking about that when Romney came to the state recently to lecture about the deficit.