February 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

ENERGY AND TAX POLICY

How energy incentives could help the state economy grow

With temperatures plunging across Michigan this winter, homeowners and businesses have been forced to crank up the heat. Now that utility bills are showing up in mailboxes, thereís bound to be some sticker shock.

Since I left my job as a mechanical engineer in the auto industry three years ago to work full-time at the energy efficiency company I founded in Farmington Hills, Iíve learned just how much potential savings are locked up inside Michiganís buildings. Iíve also learned that tapping into these savings doesnít just help consumers save money throughout the year and especially during an Arctic blast ó it also puts people to work.

Unfortunately, unlike Gov. Rick Snyder, whose recently unveiled energy strategy is a step in the right direction, Congress isnít getting this message. By letting a suite of job-creating clean energy and energy efficiency tax incentives expire on New Yearís Day, Congress is disrupting the flow of private investments into Michigan industries like energy efficiency, solar, and wind.

Thatís why Congress must renew ó right now ó energy efficiency and clean energy tax policies that have already proven they can deliver thousands of good jobs to our state.

According to Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), 1,100 clean jobs were announced in Michigan in the third quarter of 2013 alone Ė by far the most in the Midwest, and the fourth-most in the nation. Recently, a company called Sader Power held a job fair to fill more than 200 newly created positions assembling solar panels at a manufacturing facility in Pontiac.

By letting clean energy tax incentives expire, Congress turns its back on Michigan residents still seeking work. Congressional inaction also breeds market uncertainty, robs consumers of potential energy savings, and negatively impacts our health and our climate by failing to lower carbon and mercury emissions.

It doesnít have to be this way. Consider for a moment the economic benefits of energy efficiency. By installing additional insulation or high-performing lighting systems, we donít just make our buildings better ó we also grow our economy. According to the Michigan Energy Efficiency Contractors Association (MEECA), Michiganís commercial and industrial energy efficiency programs topped $1.2 billion in project spending. As MEECA president Brad Bartholomew explains, ďWhen factoring in the activity of the residential projects, energy efficiency is having a significant impact on Michiganís economy.Ē

Consider, too, what the wind industry has brought to our state. According to the American Wind Energy Association, at least 3,000 Michigan residents work in jobs connected to the wind industry, many at a cluster of manufacturing facilities located in Wayne and Oakland counties. Capital investment in Michiganís wind industry is approaching $2 billion, and annual land lease payments are providing Michigan farmers with new revenue streams, helping ensure theyíre able to pass on the family farm to the next generation.

Yet when it comes to common-sense tax policies that can help continue this broad economic growth, Capitol Hill is inflicting real harm in the heartland. According to E2ís 2013 clean jobs report, wind power jobs show a roughly 30 percent decline from 2012, when on the last day of the year Congress rushed to pass a one-year extension of the wind energy production tax credit.

That extension, along with others impacting the solar, manufacturing, and energy efficiency industries, has now expired. If Congress doesnít act soon, you can be certain more Michigan manufacturing jobs will be shipped overseas, and private investments in our stateís clean energy industry will decline.

In a competitive industry, Iíve worked hard to make my business successful. But being forced to wait for comprehensive tax reform, or being forced to monitor federal clean energy tax policies year in and year out, is an unnecessary distraction just as Iím trying to grow the commercial side of my business.

Led by Gov. Snyderís example, thousands of people across the state are doing their jobs as Michigan builds an energy efficient future. Itís time for our Congressional representatives to step up and do the same by extending clean energy tax incentives.

Amanda Godward is the founder and president of Ecotelligent Homes.