Wind energy tax credit has bipartisan support, Rove, Gibbs say

Source: BY KRISTI E. SWARTZ, Atlanta Journal-Constitution • Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2012

ATLANTA — Six years ago, a little more than 5,200 megawatts of the nation’s power came from spinning blades that towered over open lands in only the windiest states.

Today, more than 48,000 megawatts – equal to 35 percent of new power stations built in the past five years – come from wind turbines. A megawatt is enough to power 250 homes.

The wind towers are taller, the blades are longer, and the equipment is lighter, making it possible to make electricity in low-wind areas such as the Southeast.

The wind energy industry argues that the rapid growth won’t continue unless Congress extends a production tax credit through 2016. The industry’s main lobbying group brought two political polar opposites to its international conference in Atlanta on Tuesday to show there’s bipartisan support to get the bill passed.

“We need conservative Republicans who can say, ‘This means jobs to my district,’ … and we need Democrats to say, ‘This is a way to expand the range of options that we have in this country for energy,’ ” said Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

The measure, which expires Dec. 31, gives 2.2 cents in tax breaks for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by wind turbines and biomass, geothermal and landfill gas plants. Extending the tax credit would give wind energy manufacturers and suppliers more certainty that their business will move forward. An additional four years of federal incentives also is enough time to lower the cost of wind power to the point that it is as cheap as traditional sources of electricity such as coal and natural gas, industry supporters say.

Along with other tax incentives, the bill has stalled in Congress.

“We cannot have this yo-yo tax policy where one year it’s there, one year it might not be,” said Robert Gibbs, former While House press secretary and longtime senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “Your manufacturers and your people are placing orders. You’re making those hiring and firing decisions now.”

Extending the tax credit was the chief topic of Windpower 2012, the annual international conference, which was held for the first time in the Southeast. The region historically hasn’t been thought of as an area ripe for wind energy production because it lacks a steady wind. Georgia, however, is home to more than a dozen manufacturing companies that make components that go into wind turbines or that assist in building them.

Georgia is exploring offshore wind energy production. In the meantime, state leaders want to capitalize on the growing wind energy industry to continue to add manufacturing jobs here.

For his part, Obama has made the production tax credit one of the five points on his “to-do” list for Congress.

“The president is going to talk about this pretty endlessly until the end of the year,” said Gibbs, saying there’s a “slim possibility” that Congress will vote on the measure before the November election. When the time comes, Gibbs said he’s expecting at least 280 to 300 members of Congress to vote yes.

Rove said having the tax breaks on the five-point list only makes the issue a political one, threatening its passage.

“If you want to get something done in a highly charged political environment, take the politics out,” Rove said. “You don’t get Congress to do what you want them to do by going around kicking them all of the time.”

Politicians outside Washington would like to see the tax credit extended, too. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, spoke in favor of the extension at the conference Monday

One challenge the tax credit has is the perception that it is similar to the one Congress created 30 years ago for ethanol. The federal government provided more than $20 billion in subsidies for the product.

“You’ve got to make the case that this is a bridge … and is for a reasonable time frame,” Rove said.

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