The fight is on, again, over which tax credits will make the cut in this latest round of extender bills. The House of Representatives just passed HR 5771 which revives dozens of lapsed tax credits totaling $42 billion, including the controversial wind production tax credit (PTC) that expired last year. If approved by the Senate, HR 5771 will reinstate the 22-year old 'temporary' subsidy retroactively for 2014.
Wind proponents argue the 1-year extension is akin to no extension at all. They paint a dire economic picture of curtailed project development, lost jobs and the unraveling of an entire manufacturing sector. A failure to extend the PTC, they claim, will effectively impose an unfair tax on the industry in the form of higher wind prices. Those who oppose the credit are collectively dismissed as Koch-brother sympathizers, a narrative that has worked short term -- after all, it's easy to hate big oil. But the label is flatly false.
The Grassroots Speak
Leading up to the House vote, a grassroots network of thousands (and thousands!) of Americans nationwide quietly signed letters to Congress asking their representatives, and the leadership, to vote 'no' on any extension of the wind PTC. The signers, all regular, main street Americans impacted by the subsidy-driven push for more wind everywhere, hope their voices will be heard past the slick wind-marketing campaigns and paid mouthpieces with access.
They tell a different story as reflected in these excerpts from the letters sent:
Indiana: "Most of the [nearly 3000] Hoosiers who have signed this letter are directly threatened by the choice you will make. We live in the communities impacted by wind development. Many of our local elected officials have passed restrictive ordinances that effectively ban wind development due to the harms to our local economies, property values, health, wildlife and employment. The PTC encourages wind development in inappropriate places – it has fostered a generation of developers who are rewarded for siting turbines on every free acre that has transmission access, no matter who is in the way or how poor the wind resource."
Ohio: "The Production Tax Credit for wind “energy” serves only one purpose: tax avoidance. Wind is subprime power foisted upon rural communities by a predatory industry. Wind will not reduce the country’s carbon footprint. It will not power our factories. It is highly disruptive to the landscape we cherish. It is about tax avoidance – pure and simple. The burden of wind’s costs falls most heavily on those who can least afford to pay.... The signers of this letter are citizens –volunteers not funded by any organization. We are mothers and fathers. We are ratepayers and taxpayers. Unlike [Jonathan] Gruber’s acquiescent Americans, too dumb to understand the ACA, we understand wind energy. We understand it is little more than a dressed up bit of crony capitalism and support comes only at our expense. Speaker Boehner, please help to stop it. Don’t make us continue to pay for it. "
Texas: There is significant concern about the impact of wind energy subsidies on other sources of generation in Texas. ... Your active involvement in helping end the unjustifiable PTC for industrial wind energy is appreciated.
And for New Hampshire, Nebraska, Alabama and other states: "Renewing the PTC would cost billions that our nation simply cannot afford and the negative impacts on our communities, our scenic beauty and wildlife are significant."
Given the vigor in which proponents are pushing for another PTC extension, it's unrealistic to believe the wind industry can survive without the subsidy. Big wind grew up on the tax credit, developed market plans and forecasts that relied on it, and now the wind PTC appears to be a required component of the industry's economics. Warren Buffet recently reminded us that wind investment makes no sense without handouts from taxpayers.
The consequences back home of more federal subsidies for big wind are real. After more than two decades, it's time Congress learns what the public already knows and heeds the plea to pull the plug on this endless subsidy once and for all.
Linowes is executive director of the Windaction Group (windaction.org), an organization that opposes the wind power industry.