GOP questions need for wind farm tax credit

Source: By Julian Hattem - 10/02/13 12:28 PM ET, The • Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013

Republican lawmakers signaled opposition Wednesday to renewing a tax credit for wind farms, arguing it’s time for the industry to stand on its own two feet.

Democrats and the wind industry say the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) is critical to developing diverse sources of energy, but Republicans expressed skepticism that the break is still needed.

“We keep hearing that ‘we’re almost there’ or ‘just a little bit longer.’ But the facts state that wind power has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, and there’s this point of saying, when does wind take off on its own?” said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on Energy Policy.

An analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation found that a one-year extension of the tax credit would cost about $6.1 billion over 10 years. A five-year extension would cost about $18.5 billion.

Democrats on the panel said that, that number paled in comparison to the billions in tax breaks and subsidies granted to the oil and gas industry each year.

“Big oil still gets subsidies even though just the biggest five oil companies … made a combined $118 billion in profits in 2012,” Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, said. “Oil and gas have received over $4.8 billion each year in government subsidies over 90 years.”

She added, “If you want to get rid of the PTC, then let’s get rid of all the subsidies for all the various forms of energy. We need to give as much support to clean renewable energy sources as we have provided and continue to provide for the fossil fuel industry.”

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said that “the detractors of the wind industry are asking the government to pick winners and losers by removing federal subsidies for only one particular sector of the energy capacity, which is wind energy, but leaving all the other subsidies intact.”

Republicans responded that comparing tax breaks for wind energy to those received by the oil and gas industry was like looking at apples and oranges, since the provisions for fossil fuel facilities support normal business expenses.

“We probably should compare apples and apples and oranges and oranges,” Lankford said.

At the beginning of this year, Congress extended the tax credit until the start of 2014 as part of a larger deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

Proponents of wind energy say that extending the tax credit for a few more years would provide some certainty for the industry, which has been growing steadily in recent years and now accounts for about 3 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S.

They say that the uncertainty surrounding the tax credit’s extension is preventing the industry from growing as quickly as it could.

“This is not the way to build an industry. It sends such poor signals for investors,” said Dan Reicher, head of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University.