A longstanding tax credit for wind power that has broad bipartisan support was caught Wednesday in presidential politics when Senate Republicans removed it from a usually routine package of business tax breaks to show their loyalty to their presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney on Monday came out in favor of letting the wind production tax credit lapse at the end of the year, just as Senate Finance Committee members were nearing completion of a hard-fought package of business tax breaks they hope to pass out of the committee on Thursday. Those negotiations were largely about paring back the package, which routinely passes without much scrutiny.
An extension of a key tax break for the wind industry remained in flux last night, but aides said it was likely to be reinserted this morning into a bill renewing a variety of expired and expiring tax credits that will be marked up today by the Senate Finance Committee, as senators filed a number of other energy-related amendments. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) plans to offer a “chairman’s mark” of the package that is likely to include the production tax credit for wind, a tax break vital to the industry that had been omitted from an earlier version of the legislation, a committee aide said last night.
A new study pinpoints for the first time thousands of square miles of already disturbed land across the Northern Great Plains where wind turbines could be sited to produce enough electricity to power tens of millions of homes without significantly affecting wildlife habitat. The peer-reviewed study published this month in the journal PLoS ONE and led by researchers at the Nature Conservancy found that siting wind development on mostly cropland and other disturbed sites could produce more than 1 million megawatts of electricity. That’s more than four times the amount of electricity needed to meet an Energy Department goal for wind power to provide 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030.
Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, warned today against allowing a key wind industry tax credit to expire at year’s end, saying it could devastate the industry. “Like anything else that the government does, it’s always good to provide the industry with some level of certainty,” Wellinghoff told reporters at the Platts Energy Podium in Washington, D.C., today. “I think that just a sort of arbitrary and immediate cutoff of a tax credit for that industry could have a devastating effect.”
Democrats, environmentalists and clean energy backers hope GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s solidified opposition to a key wind energy tax break helps motivate voters in closely contested, windy states to tip the election toward President Obama. Romney’s campaign Monday said for the first time that the presumptive Republican nominee would like to see the production tax credit (PTC) lapse as scheduled at the end of this year (E&E Daily, July 31). That position puts him at odds with Republicans in states like Iowa that want to see the credit extended, and it is a harder line than had been taken by many senior GOP lawmakers, who have said the credit should phase out over a number of years.
The Senate Finance Committee will mark up a tax extenders package tomorrow that includes “renewable energy incentives,” committee leaders announced early this morning. The committee had been negotiating for weeks on the package, which will include “dozens” of targeted tax incentives that are set to expire at the end of this year or expired last year.
A 70-megawatt wind farm in northwest Maryland would be the first in the Northeast to receive an approved habitat conservation plan under a draft proposal unveiled today by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign came out yesterday with its strongest opposition to date on extending a key wind industry tax credit, saying the presumptive Republican nominee will allow it “to expire” and tying the issue to broader opposition to President Obama’s support for renewable energy. Romney had not shied away from criticizing Obama’s support for renewable energy — highlighting the loan guarantee to now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, among other issues, at numerous campaign stops this year — but the candidate until yesterday had avoided taking a firm position on the production tax credit for wind, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
The lines are now drawn on a political hot button in Iowa: a lucrative tax break for wind energy. Mitt Romney is against it, President Barack Obama favors it — opposing stances that could have political and economic implications in Iowa, which has more wind energy jobs than any other state in the nation.
The Obama administration ruled Friday that Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers of steel towers used in utility-scale wind turbines have been selling their products in the United States at less than fair value, handing another victory to American manufacturers and escalating an ongoing renewable energy trade battle. In its preliminary determination today, the Commerce Department set tariff rates of 20.85 percent to 72.69 percent to counter dumping practices by Chinese producers. The tariff on Vietnamese manufactures was set at 52.67 percent to 59.91 percent.