Wind supporters cite global warming benefits in push for longer PTC 

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, December 5, 2014

In trying to persuade lawmakers to extend a key renewable energy tax credit beyond the end of this year, supporters are arguing the additional wind power it would spur could put a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions and is a key piece of the broader strategy to fight global warming.

Environment America today released a report, “More Wind, Less Warming,” making the case for expanding the credit. Among other findings, the report says additional wind installations would help replace coal-fired power and reduce emissions. For example, supplying 30 percent of U.S. electricity from wind by 2030 would reduce power plant carbon dioxide emissions more than 40 percent compared with 2005, a level that would help states exceed targets from EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

American Wind Energy Association President Tom Kiernan, who appeared at a press event this morning unveiling the report, called wind energy the “single largest source” of U.S. CO2 reductions over the last several years. Wind currently supplies about 4 percent of U.S. electricity.

In something of an ironic twist, the argument mirrors what conservative groups have been saying as they seek to eliminate the credit. Organizations linked to the Koch brothers’ political network, such as Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance, earlier this year started painting the production tax credit as a central component of “the president’s climate plan” in an effort to foment opposition among Republicans wary of EPA regulations and other aspects of the plan. Critics also have argued that wind’s emissions benefit is overstated because wind is intermittent and has to be backed up by natural gas or coal power.

Anna Aurilio, director of Environment America’s Washington, D.C., office, said supporters should not shy away from touting the benefits of wind as a tool to reduce emissions while also creating jobs and not straining water resources in the Midwest.

“That seems wacky” to oppose the credit on grounds that it is part of the climate plan, she said today.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) also appeared at the event. Both said they want to see the PTC extended beyond the end of this year, as would be the case under a bill that passed the House last night. But such an outcome seems almost impossible before the end of the year; a spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who had been fighting the House bill, last night said there appeared to be no paths to an alternative bill (E&E Daily, Dec. 4).

Kiernan said he expected very little activity would be spurred by the brief extension because too little time remains for wind developers to start building projects or make “safe harbor” investments before the end of the year, when the credit would expire again. He questioned the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimate that the credit renewal would cost about $6.4 billion over the next decade, a figure it reduced from about $9.6 billion after discovering a computational error yesterday. The lower figure is still far too high, Kiernan said.

The extension “might create a very small increase in new activity,” he acknowledged, but nowhere near what the joint committee anticipates. He said he was aware of no new projects that would be expected to claim the credit; a full analysis will be included in AWEA’s annual report next year.

The House-passed “tax extenders” bill came after the collapse of negotiations around a larger bill that would have included a plan to phase out the PTC through 2017. It remains to be seen whether that approach can be revived in the new Congress. Kiernan said it was “along the lines of something that could work for the industry.”