When I started working on wind-turbine towers six years ago, I didnít know much about the wind-energy business. At that time, there were only a handful of wind-energy companies in Pennsylvania, including Gamesa, the Spanish company where I was hired after I folded my own transmission business. Right away, I realized that Iíd become part of something special ó and successful. Gamesa chose Pennsylvania as its North American hub partly because it wanted to hire skilled manufacturing workers like me who were hurt by the downturn in the American automotive industry. Until recently, we had 800 good American jobs at Gamesa, as well as the satisfaction of knowing that we were building something that was saving people money and generating clean, renewable energy.
That all changed on Sept. 6, when most of our plant was idled. While Iím fortunate enough to still have a job, most of my co-workers werenít so lucky. We lost these jobs because Congress has failed to renew the production tax credit, which has helped level the playing field so the wind industry can establish itself in this country.
But it gets worse. If Congress lets the PTC expire Dec. 31, we could end up losing half of the 75,000 jobs supported by the wind industry ó not just in Pennsylvania but across all 50 states. Itís already happening, but Congress still wonít act.
To me, that seems crazy for two reasons. First, at a time when everyone in Washington, D.C., is talking about the unemployment rate, how can any politicians hold their heads high and say we should kill more than 30,000 good-paying American jobs? It seems like the only good reason they can find for opposing it is because the other side favors it. Party politics is no reason to ignore hardworking families and hand pink slips to thousands of Americans.
And thereís another thing: Wind energy is important for the country not just because it allows American workers to actually build something, instead of having it imported from other nations like China, but also because we are building part of the future. I love working on and building wind turbines because wind energy is one of the best ways we can transition to a cleaner economy. If we strategically nurture the wind industry now, it wonít be long before wind is competitive. In fact, in some places it already is. Both Iowa and South Dakota generate more than 20 percent of their power from wind. Overall, wind is supplying 25 percent more electricity to Americans than it was just a year ago.
Pull the plug now, though, and it will take a long time for wind to be able to stand on its own everywhere.
Amazingly, many in Congress are still turning their backs on people like me and other wind-industry workers here in Pennsylvania and across the country. They are ignoring the real jobs that are being lost and the real families that are suffering.
The president has already said he wants to see the tax credit renewed. Now itís up to Congress to make it happen. Unfortunately, theyíve already delayed far too long. Thatís why many of my co-workers from Gamesa and other wind companies have traveled to D.C. to meet with anyone in Congress who would listen.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.