Focus turns to Finance panel as wind credit hangs in the balance

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012

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.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who wrote the first PTC bill in 1992, also filed two amendments to the bill that would extend the credit. One Grassley amendment would extend the credit for two years, in line with separate legislation he previously introduced. The second would provide a one-year extension but allow facilities that “begin construction” by the end of next year to claim the credit; under existing law only facilities that actually are producing electricity can claim the credit.

“It’s not right to single out one energy incentive over others before a broader tax reform debate,” Grassley said in a statement yesterday, adding that he was working with Baucus, ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) on including the credit.

“[I]t’s my understanding there’s support from the committee leaders to include wind energy when the committee meets to take action,” Grassley said.

Most of the amendments submitted yesterday came from a GOP senator who had threatened to scuttle the proceedings over a procedural disagreement. Several other Finance Committee members offered amendments that would extend breaks for independent oil companies, offshore wind developers and farmers. It remains to be seen how many of the filed amendments come up for a vote when the committee meets this morning.

The committee has spent much of the summer privately grappling with how to handle a bevy of temporary tax credits that expired last year or are set to do so this year; the provisions are typically renewed toward the end of congressional sessions and are collectively known as tax extenders. They affect a wide variety of businesses, including several in the energy industry.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) filed more than 60 amendments to the extenders package, including several that aimed to eliminate incentives to promote biofuels and energy efficiency. Coburn had threatened to scuttle the markup by invoking a procedural rule requiring two days’ notice of pending committee business. Aides did not detail what kind of deal had been reached between Coburn and Baucus but said late last night that the markup was still on for this morning.

Separately, Baucus was expected to add the production tax credit for wind to his chairman’s mark after it had been omitted from a version he and Hatch unveiled yesterday morning (Greenwire, Aug. 1).

The wind industry has been lobbying for an extension of the PTC since last year, arguing that allowing the credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to lapse as scheduled at the end of this year would cause tens of thousands of jobs to be lost. Last night, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who do not sit on the Finance Committee wrote to Baucus and Hatch urging inclusion of the PTC.

“In addition to diversifying our domestic energy mix, the wind PTC has also led to an impressive rise in American manufacturing in recent years,” wrote Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

Among the amendments Coburn filed were several aimed at either phasing out or eliminating the wind PTC. One amendment would reduce the credit by 20 percent next year, while another would reduce it by 20 percent next year and 40 percent in 2014. A third amendment would eliminate the credit altogether.

Coburn also offered amendments to modify the parameters of a home energy efficiency tax credit, to prohibit giving credits to companies with unpaid environmental fines, and to strike credits for energy-efficient appliances, biofuels and brownfields cleanup costs

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) also offered amendments to allow independent oil drillers to claim larger tax deductions and to extend a chemical security credit for farmers and farm equipment suppliers, an aide said.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) offered as an amendment a version of legislation he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to authorize the investment tax credit to be available for offshore wind developers until total offshore wind installations reach 3,000 megawatts, an aide said.

Other members of the Finance Committee indicated they did not plan amendments or their aides did not respond to requests for comment yesterday evening. However, sources off the Hill said additional energy-related amendments were expected to be offered, although specifics were unavailable in time for publication.

The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental groups including the United Steelworkers and Sierra Club, plans to send a letter to committee members this morning specifically urging inclusion of the PTC, Carper’s amendment and an advanced manufacturing credit known as 48C, which was established by the 2009 economic stimulus law. The group says it supports other efficiency and biofuels credits included in the package.

“We must continue to foster demand for the clean economy markets, including clean energy production and manufacturing, energy efficiency, and our budding transit and advanced vehicles sector,” the alliance wrote. “Passing these extensions, improvements and new credits would go a long way toward keeping America competitive in global markets, creating family-supporting jobs, and reducing our climate footprint.”