Senators to meet on extenders, look to fate of wind PTC

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Senate tax writers will meet tonight to begin hashing out what temporary tax provisions are likely to be extended at year’s end, as backers of a key incentive for the wind industry step up their effort to win an extension before the election.

Bipartisan members of the Senate Finance Committee will meet in a closed-door session to discuss the more than 100 “tax extenders” that expire Dec. 31 or have already expired, including the production tax credit for wind that has been a key target of renewable energy backers.

Asked about the fate of the PTC this afternoon, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that “some have a lot more support than others” but that tonight’s session was aimed at taking a more holistic look at the expiring provisions.

“I’d like, frankly, to go look at them all and see which ones we can drop, which ones we can extend, maybe extend some longer than some others, and I want to get the committee to start talking,” Baucus told reporters in the Capitol. “Let’s develop some trust here and talk among ourselves about what we could do and not do.”

Baucus wouldn’t hazard a guess as to whether an extenders bill could make it to the Senate floor before the November elections — a possibility that House lawmakers, congressional aides and outside observers see as unlikely. The chairman did say that he wanted to see extenders dealt with on their own, apart from a debate over whether to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts, and that he is “looking for a process where nobody’s playing any games” by offering extraneous, unrelated amendments to a tax cut package.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), another member of the Finance Committee and a supporter of the PTC, said a vote on extenders may be possible before the election, although he acknowledged that several issues need to be worked out, including deciding whether and how quickly to phase out the PTC and whether or how to pay for extending the various expiring breaks.

“My guess is that if we see something before November, it would happen I think in that September time frame. … There’s a possibility that we could put some sort of package together that would include [the PTC] as well as others, but you know, we’ll see,” he told reporters today. “I think there’s a desire to do that on both sides.”

He predicted it would be “very hard to get any kind of an extension absent at least an understanding or some kind of caveat that this would be phased out over time,” and he noted disagreement among Republicans over whether an extenders package would have to be paid for with corresponding budget cuts.

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), who is spearheading the extenders debate in the House, has predicted that a package would not be ready until after the election and has said any provisions that would be extended would have to be paid for.

Questions over a PTC phaseout also continue to mount, as the industry’s lobbyists and some of its congressional backers remain focused on winning an extension this year, before getting into a more detailed phaseout discussion in the next Congress. Some experts predict wind could compete without subsidy in as little as four to six years (E&E Daily, June 12).

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who is co-sponsoring a bill to extend the PTC for two years, said today he’s open to phasing it out but remains focused on winning an extension as soon as possible. Udall plans to deliver a floor speech every day until it is passed highlighting the wind industry’s contribution to economic development in various states, 38 of which have wind farms and 43 of which have manufacturing facilities related to the industry, he said today.

Udall said he has been talking to several bipartisan senators in an effort to craft a PTC deal, including Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Thune.

“There are a lot of vehicles still in the train station — the farm bill, the student loan bill, other proposals out there to which you could … attach something like that,” Udall told reporters today.

Hoeven said he was open to extending the PTC, but he said it is up to the industry to come forward with more details on how quickly the credit could be phased out if it hopes to see early action. Otherwise, he said, industry backers are left rolling the dice and hoping their extension ends up in a lame-duck package.

“Particularly if we could get a phaseout and pay-for, it might be done,” Hoeven said. “We’re talking to the wind industry and seeing what they want to do. … It would have to be something the wind industry supported.”

Hoeven added that he is talking to Finance members about a way to pay for the extension. “It’s really up to them [in the industry] to come back to us.”