The wind energy production tax credit (PTC) has become a key wedge issue in the 2012 presidential campaign – especially in Iowa, the No. 1 state in the U.S. for wind energy jobs and No. 2 in the nation in installed wind power capacity.
Until now, both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have been clear about their polar-opposite positions on the PTC.
Obama has made the tax credit one of the cornerstones of his campaign in states like Iowa and Colorado, both of which have an established wind energy supply chain and depend heavily on the PTC to keep thousands of wind jobs. In fact, Obama even made the passage of a PTC extension part of Congress' to-do list – a task it has so far failed to accomplish.
Meanwhile, Romney said in July that he was in favor of letting the wind energy PTC expire at the end of this year. When speaking in Iowa at a campaign event last week, however, Romney suggested that he would support a phase-out of the wind energy PTC.
"We will support nuclear and renewables but phase out subsidies once an industry is on its feet," Romney said last Friday.
A PTC phase-out has gained traction as a possible bipartisan compromise and has been supported by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who is also leading the efforts to push through an omnibus tax-extenders bill that contains a one-year PTC extension.
However, Romney's comment is in stark contrast from what was stated on his website back in July: "We should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favored approaches," his official position on energy read. "That is a recipe for both time and money wasted on projects that do not bring us dividends. The failure of wind mills and solar plants to become economically viable or make a significant contribution to our energy supply is a prime example."
Those statements have been removed from Romney's website; however, there are still no references to the PTC. The sole mention of wind energy comes in the following statement: "Companies like Solyndra have gone bankrupt, and the wind industry has shed 10,000 jobs."
At the second presidential debate, held earlier this month, Romney referenced those Iowa wind jobs.
"I don't have a policy of stopping wind jobs in Iowa, and they're not phantom jobs – they're real jobs," he said. "I appreciate wind jobs in Iowa and across our country."
The state has bipartisan support for the wind energy PTC, including from Republicans Sen. Chuck Grassley, Gov. Terry Branstad and Rep. Steve King.
So with the Iowa race in a dead heat – the latest polling numbers put the state's decision within the margin of error – could Romney have changed his mind about the wind energy PTC?
According to Frank Maisano, an energy analyst and founding partner at Bracewell & Giuliani's Policy Resolution Group, there may have been a change to Romney's policy.
Although Iowa's tight race may have influenced Romney's comments, Maisano says, there is a larger issue at play.
"I think that, more importantly, it is reflective of congressional politics," he notes, adding that the Senate Finance Committee passed the PTC-extension provision with bipartisan support.
"I think it's more a reflection of the political reality of the situation versus any immediate opportunism," he adds, "although I'm sure there's a little bit of opportunism in it too.’