Alexander slams tall wind turbines, floats bill to cut breaks

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) lambasted wind turbines “taller than the Statue of Liberty” on the Senate floor yesterday when introducing legislation to boost energy research by phasing out renewable energy tax credits.

The bill would end the production tax credit for wind by Jan. 1 and send the money to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Last year’s bipartisan tax deal would phase out the credits in 2019.

Terminating the subsidy earlier, said Alexander, would boost the Office of Science budget by $8.1 billion over several years. In contrast, DOE basic science spending this year is under $2 billion.

A longtime supporter of nuclear power and the Tennessee-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Alexander is known for speaking out against federal wind incentives.

Earlier this year, he slammed a proposed wind farm in Cumberland County, Tenn., on the Senate floor (E&E Daily, May 19). Yesterday, he gave a lengthy speech about the benefits of nuclear power and various challenges with wind energy, including communities blocking large turbines to preserve natural landscapes.

“Relying on wind when nuclear plants are available is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when a … nuclear navy is available,” Alexander said. “Wind is not effective at meeting peak power demands.”

At last year’s climate talks in Paris, the United States joined 19 countries in supporting Mission Innovation, a plan to double clean energy research spending in five years.

As a key appropriator, Alexander rejected much of the administration’s spending request for Mission Innovation as part of the fiscal 2017 energy and water appropriations bills. He was outspoken, however, in supporting the doubling of basic energy research.

Yesterday, Alexander said increasing research would help the United States achieve goals such as capturing and storing carbon, building small modular nuclear reactors and achieving fusion energy.

Pointing to powerful computers that can improve manufacturing efficiency and nuclear reactor design, Alexander said that “Congress can invest in this kind of innovation or we can invest in subsidizing giant wind turbines that produce a puny amount of technology at great cost to taxpayers.”

In a statement, the American Wind Energy Association said a retroactive tax increase would undermine investors’ trust in the U.S. business environment.

“Less than 9 months ago Congress established a clear timeline for wind production tax credit thru 2019. Today, U.S. men and women are working in the wind industry, fulfilling the potential provided by that timeline,” AWEA spokesman David Ward said.

“To abruptly truncate that agreement would be terrible policy,” Ward said. “This proposal is not the way to treat the 88,000 workers in an industry that has invested over $128 billion in the U.S. economy in the last 10 years and built 550 factories across America.”