Wind energy tax breaks are bipartisan in Iowa

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: August 8 2012 | 8:24 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 10:47 pm in
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By Ames Tribune

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The wind that the Midwest is famous for has pushed Iowa Republicans into the uncomfortable position of opposing their party’s presumed presidential nominee.

On Monday, Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s Iowa campaign, told The Des Moines Register that Romney favored allowing existing wind energy tax credits to expire at the end of the year.

U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, an Iowa Republican, responded by saying, “It’s the wrong decision. Wind energy represents one of the most innovative and exciting sectors of Iowa’s economy.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who wrote the original wind energy tax credit legislation, reportedly threatened his fellow Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee that he’d join with the Democrats in voting to keep the credits. Some Republicans on the committee had tried to remove the wind energy tax credit from a package of tax breaks under consideration.

“It’s not right to single out one energy incentive over the others before a broader tax reform debate,” Grassley said in a statement Wednesday.

The package, including a one-year extension of the tax credits at a cost of $3.3 billion, was passed Thursday by a bipartisan vote of 19-5. The full Senate is expected to take up the credits when it returns after the summer break.

Also Thursday, Gov. Terry Branstad suggested in an interview with Radio Iowa that perhaps Romney needs to be “educated as to how important this is.” Branstad blamed “a bunch of East Coast people” in Romney’s campaign for the candidate’s position on the wind tax credits.

The Iowa Republicans are right. Wind is important. It’s big business here, and Iowa is a leader in the industry. The Iowa Wind Energy Association reports that the state’s 2,893 turbines, 100 of which can be found near Colo, provide 20 percent of the electricity produced in the state. Power generated in Iowa is second only to that in Texas. The industry employs between 6,000 and 7,000 Iowans, and landowners who lease land for the turbines collect $14.46 million a year.

Iowa is also a swing state in this presidential election year, and Iowa voters like wind energy. A poll conducted in July by the American Wind Energy Association found that 57 percent of Iowans — and 59 percent of independent voters — would be less likely to vote for a candidate who did not support expanding wind power generation.

So there are a multitude of practical reasons for a candidate running for president to support the wind energy industry. President Obama is a staunch supporter, and on Friday released a new Web video in praise of the industry and its potential to generate both clean energy and jobs.

There are also very real geopolitical and global reasons to support wind energy. Most people agree that ending or reducing U.S. dependence on oil from unstable regions is a good idea. Developing more of our own energy sources is a necessary step toward that end. And, unless 98 percent of climate scientists are wrong, we as a species need to curb our appetite for fossil fuels, the burning of which is contributing to global warming. Wind is clean, and we’ll never run out of it.

But wind energy is also a young industry, competing with the deeply entrenched fossil fuel industry — which also receives billions in government subsidies every year. Wind needs a help a little longer to get established.

It’s something Democrats and Republicans, at least in Iowa, can agree upon: Pulling the plug on wind energy at this point in its development is a bad idea.

 

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