OpEd

Story published: 10-09-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Tax credit for wind power should be permanent

By Frances Lamberts

In an address 130 years ago, the British physicist Lord Kelvin argued that wind, one of the “natural sources of energy [always] available to man” should be used to generate electric power, since coal reserves would eventually be depleted.

He could not yet foresee the heat trapping atmospheric blanket through which carbon emissions from coal burning would dangerously disrupt the global climate. Nor yet its insidious health hazards.

In the U.S., says emeritus professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo Dr. Alan Lockwood, “pollution from coal is responsible for huge numbers of deaths from cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and stroke.”

Following Western Europe’s successful commercialization of wind turbines since the 1980s, helped by steady government investment incentives, more than 80 countries now are harnessing wind for electricity.

The U.S wind industry saw considerable growth as well, employing 85,000 people by 2008 and increasing installed power capacity from 2,000 megawatts in 1999 to more than 48,000 MW in 2011.

Lately, though, it has seen cutbacks in installation and employment so serious that a New York Times article in September warns of it “withering.”

Lowered electricity demand is among market-based reasons for this, but the Times highlights as main reason that, again, the “tax credit [is] in doubt.” For the eighth time this subsidy is about to lapse, set to expire Dec 31.

The Republican presidential candidate’s opposition to the credit, the “Times states, “has galvanized Republicans in Congress against it, perhaps dooming an extension.”

In repeated opinion polls, as also in a telephone survey of its customers by the TVA, Americans strongly favor green energy over coal, oil burning plants and nuclear power.

In a vigorous affirmative they have answered the question of what type of electricity they want to see developed. Entrenched interests in the energy industry, and its boosters in the Congress, have thwarted this development.

The Environmental Law Institute’s recent analysis of federal energy subsidies shows the fossil industry to have reaped $72.5 billion during 2002 through 2008, while the renewable energy industry received $29.0 billion.

Because most of the latter amount went for corn-ethanol production, the traditional (solar-wind-theothermal) renewables received a hand-to-mouth pittance, compared with fossil energy sources, of only $12.2 billion.

The wind energy’s production tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour amounts to an annual total of about $1 billion.

Remarkably, while this subsidy is short-term, for the immediate morrow only and dependent on continual re-extension through the Congress, the fossil industry’s high subsidies were written into the U.S. Tax Code as permanent provision.

It needn’t worry about continuation of its government dole. But the young renewables industry has faced constant uncertainty about government support to help it make innovation investments, scale up production, and overcome market vagaries.

It’s time we changed our perverse energy subsidization priorities. Not only should the Congress support but make longterm the production tax break for wind power development.

This would help speed a now eleventh-hour needed transition to non-polluting energy sources that won’t endanger the climate and humanity’s future on the planet.