Lowville, New York is one of those striking places that hark back to long ago times when the world was simpler and made more sense. I got to go there this summer to tour a massive wind farm, the largest on the Eastern Seaboard when it was built six years ago.
Perched on a ridge between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks, it is an idyllic agricultural haven, the dairy capital of the state, where Amish buggies slow traffic. The turbines, each as tall as the Statue of Liberty, run for miles, scattered on century old farms, oblivious to the battles in Washington over their role in America’s energy stack.
The future of U.S. wind energy is being hotly debated in this election cycle because it has been fostered off and on over the past decade by a federal tax incentive, called the production tax credit, or PTC. Doom and gloom is predicted if the PTC is not renewed at the end of this year. But the wind farm in Lowville belies that claim. It was funded and built at a time when the PTC had expired. Instead, New York State incentives, passed under Republican Gov. George Pataki, made it possible.
States passing renewable portfolio standards in the past five years have fostered renewable energy growth in the U.S. as much, if not more, than federal incentives. The loss of federal incentives, which include the investment tax credit used by the solar industry, set to expire in four years, will not mean the end of renewable energy projects in some states.
Helped by plummeting equipment prices and state renewable portfolio standards, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the average wind project will reach grid parity, putting it on a par with fossil fuel energy, in 2016, and according to GTM Research, solar projects in New York, Hawaii and Arizona will be competitive without federal subsidies.
But if the US government pushes down all the responsibility for promoting clean energy to the states, how much can the states ask their residents to pay to support renewables? That’s the question the president and Congress need to answer.
Here’s my article for SNL that looks back at the development of the remarkable Maple Ridge Wind Farm.