PTC tea leaves tough to read as fiscal cliff captures greatest focus

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012

The fate of an expiring tax credit for wind power is closely tied to prospects for an end-of-the-year deal on the so-called fiscal cliff, but its relatively low prominence in those talks is making it difficult for supporters to handicap their chances of winning an extension before the end of the year.

Negotiations are ongoing between congressional leaders and the White House over the hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect in January. If a final deal can be reached on those larger issues, legislation averting the most severe effects also is expected to include extensions to temporary tax breaks that have expired or are scheduled to do so, among the most prominent of which is the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy.

There have been relatively few public signs of progress this week in the broader fiscal cliff talks, complicating PTC backers’ efforts to argue that the credit deserves an extension to protect jobs in the wind industry and clouding their ability to tell whether they are winning the debate.

“I can’t tell you I’ve picked up a strong indication of movement that I can lay any prediction out here at all,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a top GOP supporter of the wind credit, said during a press conference yesterday.

“I just know that we’re all talking and exchanging ideas, and there will be at some point a direction that will coalesce in the minds of our leadership, and that’s likely what’s going to be pitched to us,” he added. “As of this morning, there weren’t really any strong indicators. I just am advocating for all the things I want in there, and hopefully we’ll get it done.”

Lobbyists and lawmakers have said in recent weeks that the PTC is a strong candidate for inclusion in a fiscal cliff deal because of the bipartisan support it enjoys in both the House and Senate and because of the industry’s ability to point to jobs created by the credit. But its fate remains tied to broader issues.

“The biggest risk is there’s no package” addressing the fiscal cliff, said a former Democratic economist on the Senate Finance Committee who is now lobbying for an extension to efficiency-related tax breaks also expected to be part of the package.

Speaking to reporters after the press conference, King said he has not heard many specifics articulated over the broader shape of a fiscal cliff deal, aside from a growing focus on whether Republicans would violate a pledge not to increase taxes in a final outcome. The PTC’s status in the broader negotiations remains a mystery.

“Nobody knows. And I can tell you at this point it’s unlikely that the president knows, it’s unlikely that the speaker knows, or that Harry Reid knows or Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “If they don’t know, we’re not going to know, so that’s the circumstance that we’re in.”

King appeared alongside several other PTC champions, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), at an event hosted by the group Operation Free, which organizes veterans to advocate for clean energy.

Udall said the credit likely would be included in a broader year-end package, although he stressed that the Senate’s Democratic leadership was not ruling out any avenue to enact an extension.

“They’re looking for any way to do so, whether it’s a free-standing measure or whether it’s included in a larger bill,” he said. “I think the odds are it’s the latter opportunity, given the way historically we work at the end of the congressional session, given all the work we have to do in a limited amount of time.”

Meanwhile, environmentalists are continuing their advocacy on behalf of a PTC extension by pointing to the environmental benefits of wind power. The advocacy group Environment America yesterday released a report detailing emissions reductions credited to the growth in wind energy, including cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 68 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of taking 13 million cars off the road — as well as reducing conventional air pollutants and water use in the electricity sector.

“Our message to Congress is clear: Don’t throw wind power off the fiscal cliff,” said Courtney Abrams, clean energy advocate for Environment America. “Our clean air, water, and children’s future are too important to blow it now.”