The wind and biofuel industries in Iowa will benefit modestly from a $41 billion package of tax breaks passed by the Senate late Tuesday, but only through the end of 2014. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the package of nearly 50 tax breaks, which passed by a vote of 76-16. The legislation would reinstate production tax credits for wind power, cellulosic ethanol and a $1-a-gallon credit that helps the biodiesel industry for a year. But the tax breaks, which are retroactive to when they expired at the beginning of the year, will be in place for only about two more weeks, providing little assistance to groups and producers in Iowa.
“This sort of technology is really important to the future of energy,” said Vincent Thornley, head of Siemens’s U.K. smart-grid research, in an interview. “Rather than building new cable networks and putting in new transformers, we can make better use of” existing systems by using automation. A four-year trial for the system ends this month in northeast England. It complements the $15 billion investment Buffett has already made in wind and solar power in the U.S. that he said in June he’s ready to double. His MidAmerican Energy Co. is the largest U.S. owner of wind capacity among rate-regulated utilities.
Westar Energy has signed a contract to buy all of the output of a wind farm under construction in western Kansas. The Cedar Bluff wind farm in Ness and Trego counties will produce up to 200 megawatts of wind energy, which Westar is under contract to buy, said Gina Penzig, spokeswoman for Westar. It will only pay for the electricity that is actually generated on any given day, she said. That will bring Westar’s total renewable portfolio to about 1,100 megawatts, though it doesn’t get that much every day. Penzig said customers had indicated they wanted more renewable energy in their mix.
There are plenty of economic and bureaucratic obstacles to be overcome in the long term, but Nebraska’s wind energy industry has immediate potential for even short-term expansion. The Wind Coalition is pointing to results from an official report released today by the Nebraska Power Review Board, which commissioned a study by the Brattle Group as aresult of passage of LB 1115 last legislative session. “The study shows how viable wind energy investment and development is in Nebraska, something all Nebraskans should be excited about,” said Jeff Clark, executive director of the coalition.
The Senate cleared a $41.6 billion package of tax breaks on Tuesday, sending the legislation to President Obama in one of the last substantive moves of this Congress. By a 76 to 16 vote, the Senate passed a measure that would extend more than four dozen tax breaks for both businesses and individuals just through 2014. Republicans and Democrats latched on to the one-year deal after the White House undercut negotiations on a broader bipartisan package, underscoring divisions between Democrats in the wake of this year’s heavy losses at the polls. Senators from both parties said Tuesday that they would have preferred legislation that restored the tax breaks through 2015.
A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that a controversial demand-response program can stay intact through Jan. 15 while the Obama administration seeks a Supreme Court review. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s request to extend the stay of a motion that would vacate Order 745, which directs demand-response providers such as factories or commercial buildings to receive full market prices when they curtail electricity use.
The Senate last night in a flurry of activity confirmed a handful of President Obama’s energy picks along with more than three dozen noncontroversial nominees, including a few who weren’t expected to cross the finish line. The upper chamber voted unanimously by voice vote to approve Colette Honorable to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Chris Smith to be the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for fossil energy, Estavan López to lead the Bureau of Reclamation, and John Cruden to be assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
In one of its last items of business before adjourning for the year, the Senate last night reinstated a bushel of expired tax incentives, including the production tax credit for wind energy — for two weeks. Following passage of the so-called tax extenders bill, the Senate confirmed dozens of nominees for key administration and judicial posts — including at the Interior and Energy departments (see related story). After that, the Senate adjourned for the year, joining the House, which ended its session last week. Congress returns Jan. 6.
Industry groups are asking a federal appeals court to vacate the government’s high-profile, demand-response program now instead of waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will review the case. The Edison Electric Institute and other utility groups urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday to reject FERC’s request to keep in place Order 745, which directs demand-response providers such as factories or commercial buildings to receive full market prices when they curtail electricity use.
Iowa could add about 1,300 more advanced energy jobs next year, pushing up employment in wind, solar, renewable fuels and energy efficiency to nearly 24,000, according to a report from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute. The Washington, D.C., advocacy group said advanced energy this year made up 1.3 percent of Iowa’s total workforce with 22,643 workers at 1,427 companies. It’s expected to climb 6 percent to 23,979 in 2015, according to the report that’s based on an industry survey.