Maryville Daily Times: Editorial: Sen. Alexander would end ‘Big Wind,’ ‘Big Oil’ special tax breaks

Posted on March 13, 2012

Senator Lamar Alexander of Maryville gave Congress a valuable bit of East Tennessee common sense last week: End “wasteful, long-term special tax breaks such as those for ‘Big Oil’ and ‘Big Wind.’”

He added there are three reasons why “Big Wind” subsidies should go the way of the $5 billion annual ethanol subsidy, which Congress allowed to expire last year:

• We can’t afford it. It would cost taxpayers $14 billion over five years. The federal government borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. It cannot justify such a subsidy, especially for what the U.S. Energy Secretary calls a “mature technology.” He supports research and development of new technology.

• Wind turbines produce a relatively puny amount of expensive, unreliable electricity. The total is 2.3 percent, less than 8 percent of our pollution-free electricity.

• These massive turbines too often destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment. Some are 40 stories high — taller than the Statue of Liberty — with blades as long as a football field, weighing seven tons and spinning at 150 miles per hour with blinking lights visible for 20 miles.

Eagle deaths in the wind farms has apparently gotten so common the U.S. Department of Interior will grant wind developers hunting licenses for eagles. (Last year 67 golden eagles were killed at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area.)

In a talk at the Heritage Foundation, he supported an end to the production tax credit for wind power, which has been in place since 1992 and is set to expire next year.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted down an amendment to the highway bill that would have extended the wind power tax credit. However, supporters of the tax credit could attempt to attach the amendment to future bills.

The senator pointed out the “failed” TVA effort in construction of a 29-megawatt wind farm at Buffalo Mountain at a cost of $60 million.

While wind turbines average operation about one-third of the time, there is only enough wind to operate the TVA farm 19 percent of the time. That compares with 90 percent of the time nuclear plants are in operation.

Sen. Alexander said that according to the president’s new budget “Big Oil” receives multiple tax subsidies. Abolishing them would save about $22 billion over five years, an even larger amount than the proposed “Big Wind” subsidy of $14 billion, he said.

Alexander opposes both. He favors use of abundant, cheap and very clean natural gas or reactors, which power our Navy ships and produce 70 percent of our pollution-free electricity.

He also stated he favors an energy policy that would double the $5 billion federal energy budget for research on new forms of clean, cheap, reliable energy. He added he was talking about the 500-mile battery for electric cars; commercial uses of carbon captured from coal plants; solar power installed at less than $1 per watt, or offshore wind turbines.

We don’t think either political party alone got us in this situation and neither will get us out of it alone. We do commend Senator Alexander who voluntarily stepped down from a party leadership post in order to avoid constraints and to contribute his valuable insight into some of our nation’s most serious problems.

His suggestion regarding money saved from ending wasteful subsidies would be to spend $2 of every $3 saved to reduce the federal debt and $1 to double research for new forms of cheap, clean energy in our country.