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The opening session of the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) WINDPOWER 2012 Conference & Exhibition focused heavily on the imminent expiration of the federal production tax credit (PTC) - the No. 1 threat facing the U.S. wind energy industry.

The session featured Govs. Mike Beebe, D-Ark., and Sam Brownback, R- Kan., as well as influential supporters such as Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change - all of whom stressed the importance of extending the PTC.

Beebe told attendees how wind power manufacturing helped stabilize his state's economy during the economic downturn.

"I've got a big stake in wind,” he said. “We're all about wind in Arkansas."

In fact, Beebe’s efforts led to the creation of a 150,000 square-foot nacelle-assembly plant and training facility for Nordex USA in October 2010. The Jonesboro-based factory - a $42 million investment - is the manufacturer's only U.S.-based plant.

The governor became very animated - and entertaining - when he tried to put himself in the shoes of developers and supply-chain providers.

"How in the world can you make decisions on a year-to-year basis when you don't know if the PTC will get extended?" Beebe asked. "It's insane, absolutely insane. I'm not here to bash Washington, but they need a good bashing."

Beebe was honored with AWEA's USA Wind Jobs Champion Award, becoming the 10th recipient of the award. As a symbolic gesture, Beebe was awarded a six-inch, galvanized steel bolt - one of around 40 such bolts used to secure wind blades to a rotor - manufactured by Ohio-based Dyson Corp.

Beebe urged attendees to spread the word and educate the public about the many benefits of wind energy.

"You need to stop talking to one another, and go out and make people understand that value of wind power," he said. "We've seen the benefits [of wind power] in my state."

In closing, Beebe turned up the rhetoric. "Anybody standing in the way of getting these tax credits passed - well, you can call them downright un-American," he said. "That ought to resonate."

Wind energy and manufacturing have also made their mark in Kansas, Brownback stressed. With enough wind energy potential to provide 90 times the state's current electricity needs, Kansas is well aware of the benefits of wind energy.

Kansas can also attest to the importance of manufacturing, having lured Siemens’ nacelle plant to the town of Hutchinson.

Wind power represents a $3 billion investment in Kansas. This year alone, more than 660 new wind turbines will be constructed in the state. However, all of that momentum will be lost if the PTC is allowed to expire, Brownback said.

In a press conference immediately following the opening session, Brownback - who was similarly lauded by AWEA - was a bit more blunt when asked about a PTC extension.

"Why extend the PTC?" he asked. "The darn thing works."

Near-term extension is possible

To illustrate the support from the executive branch, Zichal provided attendees with a glimpse of President Obama’s all-of-the-above approach to energy, in which wind power is featured prominently.

In addition to the president’s attempts to extend the PTC, efforts are also under way to renew the expired Section 48C advanced energy manufacturing tax credit.

"The president has been adamant of his support," Zichal said. "But with each passing day, there is growing concern about the PTC."

She dismissed the idea that a PTC extension could not be passed in an election year.

"Even though we are in an election year, there is no reason why Congress can't pass [the PTC] right now," she stated.

In fact, the PTC has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, Zichal noted. "I even heard that Karl Rove will be here tomorrow,” she pointed out.

Mirroring the seriousness of the opening session, the remarks of Ted Turner - who returned to the WINDPOWER stage this year after a memorable appearance last year in Anaheim - were noticeably toned down.

Turner described the challenges wind energy faces in establishing itself as a mainstream power source, but he remained somewhat positive.

"That's when it gets hard,” he said, “but that’s when it gets fun."

Photo credit: Office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe

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