Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Alexander on Ending the Wind Production Tax Credit

Posted on November 16, 2017

Mr. President, if I may for a few minutes turn to another subject.

Congress has turned its attention to tax reform and our principal challenge is to find tax breaks and loopholes to eliminate so that we can lower rates for taxpayers—and I have a nomination.

The top of the list should be ending the wind production tax credit. Congress has already recognized the need to end the wind production tax credit by passing legislation to phase out the credit by 2020. And the draft House tax proposal reduces the amount available for new wind turbines by returning the credit to its original value instead of adjusting it for inflation.

But we should do better. Instead of phasing it out, we should end the wind production tax credit this year. Ending the wind production tax credit on December 31, 2017, would save over $4 billion, which we could then use to lower tax rates for the American people.

The wind production tax credit has been in place for 25 years. It's been extended ten different times by Congress. It was originally set to expire in 1999.

Tax credits are best used to jump-start new and emerging technologies. It's been a quarter of a century. Wind turbines are no longer a new technology. President Obama's Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, testified he believes that wind is a mature technology. It's time to end this wasteful and expensive subsidy for a clearly mature technology.

To date, the wind production tax credit has already cost the taxpayers billions. For eight years, from 2008 to 2015, the wind production tax credit cost taxpayers $9.6 billion. That's more than $1 billion per year.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the wind production tax credit is expected to cost taxpayers over $23 billion between 2016 and 2020. And the cost to taxpayers will continue until 2030.

That's because when you extend the wind production tax credit for one year, it's really for ten years. To benefit from the tax credit, wind developers must just begin construction of a wind project before December 31, 2019. Then those developers can reap the tax benefits for a decade.

Despite the billions Congress has provided in subsidies, wind energy still only produces six percent of our country's electricity and 17 percent of our country's carbon-free electricity. By contrast, nuclear is 20 percent of our electricity and 60 percent of our emissions-free, carbon-free electricity.

And the wind only blows about a third of the time. Until there's some way to store large amounts of wind, a utility still needs to operate nuclear, gas, or coal plants when the wind doesn't blow.

On average, wind turbines are over two times as tall as the skyboxes at the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium and taller than the Statue of Liberty. The blades on the windmills can be as long as a football field and their blinking lights can be seen for 20 miles.

This isn't the first time that I've been on the Senate floor expressing my concern about the wind production tax credit. But I believe that the conversation about energy subsidies and taxes is bigger than the wind production tax credit.

As Congress examines ways to reduce tax rates and to broaden the base, we must be willing to look at all tax subsidies for mature technologies. That includes oil and gas subsidies.

I'm here today to challenge my colleagues to be willing to consider all energy subsidies for mature technologies -- wind, solar, oil, gas -- as candidates for elimination in a tax reform bill. Those dollars could be better spent to lower rates for taxpayers. I thank the president. I yield the floor.