National Journal: Alexander Leads Charge Against Wind Credit

Posted on October 24, 2012

No one in Congress hates wind power more than Sen. Lamar Alexander, and the upcoming lame-duck session provides the Tennessee Republican with his best chance ever to get rid of the wind industry’s biggest federal lifeline: the production tax credit.

The credit will expire at year’s end unless Congress votes to renew it. Its fate will likely hinge less on its own merit and more on how successful lawmakers are at striking a deal to extend a wide range of tax extenders. But Alexander, along with a handful of other lawmakers, electric utilities, and conservative interest groups, is seeking to raise the credit’s political profile in a way that ensures it doesn’t make it to 2013.

“I’m going to work as hard as I know how to make sure it dies a natural death,” Alexander told National Journal Daily in a recent phone interview.

Ever since Alexander joined the Senate in 2003, he has opposed the wind production tax credit, which was created in 1992 by fellow Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Alexander says he opposes it for three reasons: It costs too much (the latest estimate is $12 billion over 10 years); wind energy provides a “puny” amount of electricity (about 3 percent of the nation’s power supply); and it “too often destroys the environment in the name of saving the environment.” Alexander has said on the Senate floor that “these giant turbines have become a Cuisinart in the sky for birds,” noting that turbine blades kill 400,000 birds a year according to one estimate.

The tax credit has traditionally enjoyed unusually large bipartisan support, given how polarized renewable energy has become in recent years.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota have both expressed support to extend it in recent months. They point to the jobs the policy helps sustain and the cleaner source of electricity it offers.

In July, when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared his opposition to the production tax credit, the tide started to turn in Alexander’s favor. Many congressional Republicans who had been vocally supportive of the policy went quiet, and the biggest nuclear-power utility in the country, Exelon, started publicly lobbying against the policy.

“I have been outnumbered,” Alexander said. “But since I began pointing out the size of the subsidy and how little sense it makes, I’ve gained a lot of other people who are coming to the same conclusion.”

The senator declined to say he would oppose any overall deal on taxes if the wind credit is included, but he is confident it will be left out. “I think it’s likely to get left on the floor where it should be,” Alexander said.

But the Senate Finance Committee has already passed tax-extenders legislation that would continue the wind credit, and strategists fighting for its expiration acknowledge the PTC is likely to be extended as long as it remains attached to a larger package, especially in the House.

“I think right now if you hold everything constant, it would be extended if it’s part of a broader package of issues that are more politically important to the House leadership,” said David Banks, who recently left the office of Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., and is now working with conservative groups like the Heartland Institute to fight the policy.