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Winds of change are blowing — so don’t let tax credits expire

Wind turbines in the North Sea, off the coast of Europe

REUTERS

The clock is ticking. The fiscal cliff may still be avoided, but at what price? We still need tax credits for home ownership and charitable giving — and clean energy. All have a tangible return on investment.

Massachusetts is at the end of the energy pipeline. More than others, we need to invest in clean wind energy now, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it can help to maintain the strong economy and healthy natural resources that sustain Massachusetts businesses. It’s a golden opportunity to make our electricity supply cleaner, more secure, and healthier for people.

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Investing in Atlantic offshore wind energy can generate 300,000 new jobs and $200 billion in new economic activity for America, according to a recent study by the National Wildlife Federation. But that economic windfall will only materialize if our elected officials and regulators take the right steps — right now. Those steps begin with extending the renewable energy production tax credits and offshore wind investment tax credit that are about to expire on Monday.

Businesses like ours depend on reliable, cost-effective energy to thrive in the marketplace. Offshore wind energy presents an unparalleled opportunity for Massachusetts to produce a substantial amount of our energy right here at home, investing our dollars locally to support thousands of high quality jobs while providing power right where and when we need it most. Offshore winds blow strongest during the day and particularly on hot summer afternoons and heat waves — offering a clean power source to meet our energy needs during the most challenging times of peak electric demand.

Yet the United States does not have a single offshore wind turbine spinning in the Atlantic Ocean, even though wind energy facilities off the Atlantic shoreline could generate 1,300 gigawatts of energy. Around 52 gigawatts of that potential could power around 14 million homes.

Supporting investment in wind energy production now will help diversify Massachusetts’ energy mix, leading to lower and more predictable energy prices over time and protecting ratepayers from future fossil fuel price volatility. Most importantly, offshore wind energy is clean, locally-produced power that does not contribute to the effects of climate change that threaten Massachusetts’ communities and coastlines.

The good news is that many of the pieces are falling into place, including here in the Bay State; after 10 years of debate, the Cape Wind project is on track to cross the finish line in 2013. In addition, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has identified two formal wind energy areas off our coast covering nearly 1,000 square miles, with leases to be offered for sale by competitive auction in 2013. As a result of these positive signs of progress, the Commonwealth is moving forward with plans for a new marine terminal in New Bedford to support the delivery, assembly, and installation of offshore wind energy projects.

Commendably, Massachusetts has also enacted policies to facilitate offshore wind development — including requiring that a certain percentage of our power be generated from renewable sources. We are also leaders within the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program for reducing carbon emissions from power plants. And we have long-term contracting laws on the books that help offshore wind projects secure the financing needed to move forward.

Clearly the Commonwealth cannot do it alone. Government at every level must explicitly make clean energy a priority and provide investment certainty through public policy. Extending the production and investment tax credit would send the clear market signal needed to continue the advancement of this new clean energy industry. We should seize this opportunity to harness our largest untapped clean energy source, opt for cutting-edge technologies, revitalize manufacturing, reduce oil imports and create $200 billion in economic activity.

We are not in the energy-generation business, but we are major electricity users who want a cleaner environment and a stable energy supply produced here at home at reasonable prices. The people of Massachusetts are ready, and our representatives in Washington should step up and lead the way by voting to extend tax incentives for clean, Massachusetts-made offshore wind energy.

Rick Mattila, retired from Genzyme, is a member of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. Rick Heller is senior vice president and general counsel for Legal Sea Foods. Both are members of the Corporate Council of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
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