In light of less-than-favorable comments President Donald Trump recently made in Iowa about wind energy, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a staunch proponent of the wind industry and the self-proclaimed father of the production tax credit (PTC), is reiterating his support for wind and clarifying where he believes the president stands. In an interview with North American Windpower, the Republican senator from Iowa also weighed in on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) now delayed electric grid study, as well as the future of the PTC.
According to the New York Times, which specifically writes that Trump “dismissed the potency” of Iowa wind, the president reportedly said during a recent speech in the state, “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory as the birds fall to the ground.”
Soon after, during a call with reporters, Grassley chimed in on the topic and said he does not think Trump “has a case out against wind.”
Indeed, although he has not conversed with the president on the topic and, therefore, cannot “say [it] with certainty,” Grassley tells NAW, “I don’t believe that Trump is against wind energy – deep in my heart.”
He pointed to Trump’s “all of the above” energy strategy, as well as his general support of “alternative energy” – a sentiment previously shared by Grassley before the election last year. In September, after the senator commented to reporters that Trump could “do away” with wind “over [Grassley’s] dead body,” he clarified with NAW that the president-to-be had already voiced his support for “all forms of energy” and that Grassley was “not in a position where [he was] worried about Trump.”
Again, the senator says now that although he is “obviously sensitive” about any wind talk, he maintains his stance, regardless of the most recent comments.
“We’ve heard him say things about wind energy killing birds, but that doesn’t mean he’s against wind energy,” argues Grassley, who points to the fact that Trump was most likely not reading from a teleprompter at the time and “probably said [the bird comment] to be funny.”
However, the PTC father is still making his voice loud and clear: After Trump made the comments in Iowa, Grassley says he talked to someone “close to the president” and said, “You need to tell Trump that I’m the author of the wind energy tax credit, so obviously my ears perk up when I hear him say anything about wind.”
Grassley says he then told this person that more birds are killed by cars and by tall towers with glass, like Trump Tower, than by wind turbines. “And that’s where I left it,” he says.
Grassley also recently conversed with another member of the Trump administration, DOE Secretary Rick Perry, via both a formal letter and a handwritten note, regarding the DOE’s planned grid study that the senator believes could “undermine” the wind industry, Grassley said in May.
Grassley pointed to the success of wind in his home state, which, at more than 36%, leads the country in terms of the percentage of power wind produces statewide.
“Any study reviewing the impacts of wind energy on grid reliability and security should look closely at Iowa’s utility operations as evidence of its success,” Grassley wrote to Perry in the letter.
As for the note, the senator says he essentially explained to Perry, “You know me, I know you well, I’m the father of the wind energy tax credit, [so] don’t be doing anything to challenge wind energy.”
Though he says the secretary did not respond to the note, Perry did, however, issue a reply to the formal letter. Perry, as former governor of wind-rich Texas, noted his appreciation for the “substantial economic contributions wind energy is providing in many parts of our country,” as well as Grassley’s “instrumental role” in growing the industry nationwide.
Perry also maintained that the study, whose release date has now been pushed back from June 26 to “early July,” will be conducted in an “accurate, unbiased and complete manner” with a goal of “ensuring that our electric grid remains reliable, resilient and affordable.”
In addition, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is also speaking out in support of the wind industry. Last week, she met with “several members” of the Trump administration, including Perry, “to discuss issues important to Iowans,” such as wind power, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The release says the two discussed “the importance of a diversified energy portfolio,” which Iowa has implemented “to become a leader in biofuels and wind energy generation.”
“Secretary Perry is a strong supporter of states’ rights, and I was able to explain to him what Iowa is doing with renewables,” says Reynolds.
The fate of the PTC
Importantly, as for the future of the federal PTC phase-out under the Trump administration, Grassley does not believe an early sunset is likely.
Extended in December 2015, the PTC – which Grassley established back in the early 1990s – offers wind developers a tax credit of $0.024/kWh for wind generated to the grid (adjusted for inflation in April from $0.023/kWh). The subsidy remained at this level through 2016 but now phases down each year until 2020.
In last September’s interview with NAW, the lawmaker mentioned that if someone were to “repeal it ahead of time,” Grassley would “make sure they have a fight on their hands.”
Now, the senator is confident the phase-out will go as scheduled for a couple reasons.
First, Grassley points to conversations he has had with Steven Mnuchin, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in regards to tax reform.
“He understands that whenever you have tax reform, you have what you call transition rules, and we’re already in a transition on wind energy,” the senator explains, “and the wind energy transition ‘ought to continue even if we pass tax reform in the next few months. And he said he agreed with me.” Grassley notes that Mnuchin discussed the topic “in the privacy of [Grassley’s] office,” as well as “for the record before the [Senate] finance committee.”
Second, “the wind industry itself” established the 2020 phase-out, and importantly, the wind industry will continue to have the PTC father on its side in regards to that decision.
“I think I’m in a strong position in the United States Senate to defend [it],” he says.