Wind power credit vote comes up short

Source: PETE ROPER • The Pueblo Chieftain • Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The turbine marking the Vestas Wind Tower plant south of Pueblo at which a continued federal tax credit is critical to keeping jobs.

A critical federal tax credit for Vestas and other wind-power manufacturers was rejected in the Senate on a 49-49 vote Tuesday that split on party lines with Democrats supporting it and Republicans literally turning thumbs down.

The wind power credit was one of 19 business tax credit extensions in an amendment sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Her measure covered businesses from wind power to bio-fuels and even credits for energy efficient home construction.

Under Senate rules, the measure needed 60 votes to be attached to a far-reaching transportation bill the Senate has been working on for several weeks.

Stabenow argued that 2.7 million jobs are at risk if her amendment failed. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, have lobbied their colleagues that 1,600 jobs at Vestas’ four Colorado plants are in jeopardy if the wind power tax credit isn’t extended very soon.

After Tuesday’s vote, a Vestas spokesman said the company would decide to “add, adjust or eliminate jobs” in the U.S. and Canada later this year based on the status of the tax credit and the markets served by U.S. factories.

“We will continue to work with our supporters in Congress to find viable bills in which to include the (production tax credit),” the spokesman said.

Taking a page from Republican anti-tax speeches, Stabenow told her colleagues that a vote against her amendment was a tax increase on all the affected businesses.

“Stop this tax increase on innovative job creators,” she argued, but it didn’t work.

No one spoke against the measure Tuesday but it was clear that a party-line vote was going to be the result. Some senators simply turned their thumbs up or thumbs down when their names were called. The tax credits in the Stabenow measure totaled about $11.5 billion in lost revenue and that has been a sticking point.

During terse negotiations in December over extending a 2 percent payroll tax deduction for workers, Republicans pushed Democrats to find cuts in federal spending to pay for the deduction. Similarly, there were no recommended cuts attached to Stabenow’s amendment, a fact that had some Democratic staffers pessimistic about winning any GOP support.

“Standing on its own, this credit has bipartisan support and Colorado companies are counting on us to get it across the finish line,” Bennet said after the vote Tuesday. “I will continue the fight and look for the next opportunity to extend the wind-energy tax credit.”

Udall said much the same thing in his statement, adding, “Vestas may lay off more than 80 percent of its workforce in Colorado if (the tax credit) is not extended.”

The trick for wind power supporters will be to try to get the tax credit attached to some piece of legislation that will pass both the House and Senate. And preferably as a single amendment unto itself.

Senate staffers said one major issue with the Stabenow amendment was its size — 19 business credits totaling about $11.5 billion and no recommendations on how to pay for them. By itself, the wind credit costs about $3.5 billion a year. It offers the buyers of wind turbines a tax credit for the power they produce.

The vote Tuesday had 45 Senate Republicans voting against the measure, plus four Democrats. On the other side, 48 Democrats supported it, plus independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont. Two Republicans did not participate in the voting.

The Stabenow amendment wasn’t the only partisan battle Tuesday.

Minutes earlier, it was the Democrats’ turn to line up in opposition to a measure from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to add an amendment authorizing the controversial Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Many Republicans voted for that amendment, but it also failed on a 57-41 vote.