AWEA board boots Exelon over utility’s anti-PTC campaign

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The American Wind Energy Association’s board of directors has ousted a power company that has urged Congress to end production tax credits for wind energy.

AWEA’s board last week found Exelon Corp. was no longer a member in good standing because of the Chicago-based utility’s public campaign opposing the extension of the tax incentives that are set to expire at the end of this year.

The board’s confidential vote led to the removal of David Drescher, Exelon’s vice president of wind and solar, a member of AWEA’s board for six years.

The termination of Exelon’s membership was “unique” for AWEA and became necessary after Exelon began publicly drumming up opposition to the tax credit, AWEA spokesman Peter Kelley said. Exelon’s position is “inconsistent” with AWEA’s mission of promoting the wind industry, he said.

“What they’re doing is publicly leading an organized campaign to kill the production tax credit, and industry would lose” up to 37,000 jobs in the first quarter of next year if Congress fails to act, he said.

Kelley noted that David Brown, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal government affairs and public policy, is scheduled to address the Republican Study Committee today during a briefing on the PTC. The committee and the American Energy Alliance, which opposes a PTC extension, are hosting the event.

“It’s no longer just their opinion or a different view; it’s actually an organized campaign that they’re one of the leaders of,” he said.

The wind industry’s tax break has attracted increasing criticism in recent weeks. Most recently, a coalition of conservative groups led by Americans for Prosperity has urged Congress to let the tax incentives die at the end of the year (Greenwire, Sept. 6). Action on the PTC and other so-called tax extenders is not expected until a post-election lame-duck session.

Exelon spokesman Paul Elsberg called AWEA’s decision “unfortunate,” but he defended the company’s position.

Exelon supports the wind industry but was at odds with AWEA because the tax incentives haven’t been working for decades, he said. “The PTC is no longer needed and distorts competitive wholesale energy markets causing financial harm to other, more reliable clean energy sources,” Elsberg said in an email.

Exelon President and CEO Christopher Crane said during an earnings call in August that the PTC had failed to work after two decades. Crane also said Exelon could move forward with building out wind farms without the tax incentives (Greenwire, Aug. 3).

The utility owns and operates 38 wind projects — about 900 megawatts — in the Midwest and on the West Coast, but also has a large position in the nuclear sector. Most of the electricity Exelon produces — about 93 percent — is generated at the company’s 10 nuclear plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But Kelley rejected Exelon’s position, saying many utilities and the Edison Electric Institute support an extension of the PTC.

While coal, nuclear power and natural gas all have an array of financial incentives, the wind industry has been faced with uncertainty surrounding the tax credits, he said. The incentives have been stable for only seven years, during which time the industry created thousands of jobs and expanded quickly, he said.

The industry now needs support until Congress takes up corporate tax reform, Kelley said.

“We’ve always said we’re not going to need this forever,” Kelley said.