There was good news. Wind industry leaders saw a chance to get a production tax credit (PTC) extension through the U.S. Congress by adding it to an economic stimulus bill that the House and Senate debated. The bad news is that it was not much of a chance. On Feb. 6, 41 U.S. Senators voted against the package of economic stimulus measures advanced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the finance panel.
‘With 116,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion in investment at risk in the renewable energy industries, a minority of the Senate has again frustrated the desire of millions of Americans across the political spectrum who overwhelmingly support clean, home grown energy,’ said American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Executive Director Randall Swisher in a statement about the vote. ‘We strongly urge Congressional leaders to move quickly to find another path for a rapid extension of the tax incentives needed to put our nation on the road to a clean and secure energy future.’
The economic stimulus package, pushed by the White House, would send tax rebates to consumers to prop up the sagging economy.
The Senate Finance Committee approved a stimulus bill on Jan. 30 that included $5.5 billion worth of tax-credit extensions for wind, solar and other renewables, as well as incentives for homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. The PTC provision would have extended the credit until the end of 2009. It is set to expire at the end of this year, and was not included in the stimulus bill that the House of Representatives passed several days earlier.
Yet, almost as soon as the bill passed the finance committee, the Republican leadership in the Senate threatened a filibuster, and Senate Democrats delayed a final vote on the legislation in attempt to secure 60 votes to prevent that from happening. And, even then, say observers, the odds were still stacked against it. President Bush asked Congress to pass a stimulus bill by Feb. 15.
‘Even if it passed the Senate, the chances of it being included in the final bill after the conference committee with the House – which would have to agree to any changes – are uncertain,’ says David Loman, an attorney with Hunton & Williams in Richmond, Va., whose practice focuses on energy tax credit issues and has worked extensively in the wind industry. ‘There are political pressures to get this done and to get it done quickly, and lengthy negotiations in a conference committee would slow the process down.’
In fact, despite the opposition from the GOP leadership, there was Republican support in the Senate for including the PTC extension in the stimulus package. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member on the finance committee, said that the package should underscore the nation's commitment to energy efficiency and alternative energy during debate on the bill.
Nevertheless, despite the industry's arguments that extending the PTC would save 75,000 jobs and prevent hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars in investment in new wind facilities, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, called the finance committee bill a Christmas gift: ‘You could almost hear Bing Crosby's voice.’
Even so, industry leaders are committed to moving an extension through Congress this year, says Greg Wetstone, the senior director of government and public affairs for AWEA, preferably with this economic stimulus package, but ‘with any and every legislative bill that shows itself. We have all sorts of options.’
And that the PTC keeps running into so many obstacles? ‘The problem we've had is not the PTC, but that we get caught up in the controversy over other issues,’ says Wetstone. ‘That's what we tried to avoid by being part of this package.’