Last week, military veterans who also work in clean energy gathered in Washington, DC as a part of Operation Free's Wind Energy Initiative. They met with more than 40 congressional offices to discuss the importance of renewing the Wind Production Tax Credit, a key incentive provided to companies for producing clean, renewable power. Though these veterans served in different branches, live in different states, and work for different companies, nearly all shared a common story. That story was about people transitioning out of military service and looking for opportunities to use the skills they developed in their service in the civilian economy- and finding those opportunities in clean energy.
Military veterans make up a remarkable proportion of workers in clean energy. An Operation Free veteran who joined the group in Washington this week told me that more than 40 percent of his company's operations workforce has military experience. This isn't a coincidence. So many of the skills these men and women developed in their service- everything from working with cutting-edge technology to working in dynamic and competitive environments to the leadership qualities required to finish the job- are highly coveted in the clean energy industries.
I met Duane Enger, a former Army Captain who deployed to Iraq with a Stryker Brigade in the initial invasion in 2003. "I remember driving from Kuwait to Baghdad and seeing the pipeline carrying oil into Iraq," Enger said. "Then, we came on a scene of Iraqis waiting for gas in lines that were 2 miles long. Iraq hadn't invested in [its] own natural resources. We're the Saudi Arabia of wind.”
As Duane was transitioning out of the Army, he was unsure where he fit in the civilian economy, but he quickly found an opportunity as a wind developer by a company seeking people with his skillset. Unfortunately, his first company had to make layoffs because of the last boom-bust cycle the wind industry went through. And while he’s now a developer with another company, last week he was in Washington fighting for his job again.
One of the most important impacts of the expiration of the PTC stretches beyond the need for clean, renewable energy. It even stretches beyond the capacity of distributed energy sources to strengthen the resilience and security of our electricity grid. It’s about continuing to invest in the people who received unparalleled training as a part of their service, demonstrated their commitment to strengthening our economic and national security, and are now developing our clean energy economy.
In talking about the explosive growth of the wind industry, and how that growth is being endangered due to congressional paralysis on the PTC, we should keep in mind that the future of the industry depends on continuing to attract and retain the people driving that growth, including the men and women who served our country in uniform, and continue to serve by securing America with clean energy.