Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) : Winding Down Wind Subsidy

Posted on November 15, 2012

If I may move to another subject, there’s been a lot of talk this week about the fiscal cliff. The President and Congressional leaders are meeting tomorrow, as they should, about how can we reduce our debt. That will require, in my judgment, reform of our entitlement programs. Saving our Medicare Program, for example. The average couple who is 65 years of age when they retire pays $119,000 into the Medicare Program. They will take out $357,000. That kind of program is not sustainable. For the next generation of older Americans there will not be a Medicare Program unless we work on that.

We need to work together to find a way to restrain entitlements, produce revenues if that is what is necessary, and come to a result. In the meantime we have to be saving money -- 42 cents out of every dollar we spend is borrowed -- so that is what brings me to the floor today.

Supporters of wind power have used this week to proclaim it "Wind Week" in Washington, DC, launching an event to try to persuade us to extend one more time -- this would be the eighth time -- the Wind Production Tax Credit which, if we were to do so, just for 1 year, would cost another $12.1 billion over 10 years.

I want to suggest a different name for this week. Let's call it the "Wind Down Wind Week." It is time to end a 20-year-old temporary subsidy that has already been renewed seven times. The reason is very simple. We can't afford it. The Joint Tax Committee says the 1-year extension will cost that $12.1 billion -- but it is not just a 1-year extension. The developers of wind power will get the tax credit for 10 years. That is a lot of money. It is one-third of the Tennessee State budget. It is 2 times what we spend each year on energy research. This is money could be used to help reduce the debt instead of fund this subsidy. The cost $12.1 billion is on top of the $16 billion in Federal subsidies and grants already given to wind developers and their Wall Street backers between 2009 and 2013, according to the Joint Tax Committee and the Unites States Treasury.

How can we justify this? We hear a lot about big oil. What about big wind? Big wind received, according to the Energy Information Agency, an $18.82 federal subsidy per megawatt hour -- 25 times per megawatt hour as all other forms of electricity production combined. Given our fiscal crisis we should eliminate special tax breaks for big oil and big wind.

The big wind tax break was put in place in 1992. It was to be a temporary measure. It was intended to boost a new technology. Now, 20 years later, President Obama's respected Energy Secretary says wind is a mature technology. What do we have after 20 years and billions of dollars of subsidies? A puny amount of unreliable electricity. Our country uses nearly 25 percent of all the electricity in the world. Wind produces 3 percent of that. And of course it only produces electricity when the wind blows and it is not easy to store it. So it is of limited use in a country that needs huge amounts of low-cost, clean, reliable electricity. Relying on wind power is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboat when nuclear submarines are available.

The wind subsidy is so large that wind developers are now paying distributors to take their wind power, undercutting the baseload energy plants that are necessary to provide the reliable, low-cost electricity our country needs. On top of that, there are better ways to produce clean electricity, better ways than subsidizing a technology that destroys the environment in the name of saving the environment.

For example, it would take a row of 50-story wind turbines along the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, 2,178 miles, to equal the energy production of 4 nuclear reactors. The best way to produce cheap, clean energy in the United States is to let the marketplace do it. Let the marketplace produce large amounts of clean, reliable energy for all businesses and households -- not to just subsidize jobs for a technology that can stand on its own and produces only a small amount of unreliable electricity.

Let's use this week to celebrate. But let's celebrate the end of the temporary 20-year old wind production tax credit and use the $12.1 billion saved to reduce the Federal debt.