Wind energy gets a budget deal boost

Congress is extending tax credits for the sector, furthering development of one source of alternative energy in the national power grid. But not everyone is pleased.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 3, 2013 9:22AM

File photo of wind turbines (Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images)Here's some information you might have missed during all the crazed fiscal cliff negotiations: As part of the financial deal, Congress extended tax credits on all wind energy projects through 2013.

That news was warmly welcomed by wind power developers -- many of whom rushed to complete wind farms and other projects in 2012 in case those subsidies ran out.

How important were those subsidies? "Just simply, 30% of the value of a project is derived from the tax credit," Florian Zerhusen, chief executive of WKN USA, a San Diego wind developer, told "That's what makes it so important, or you're making too low a return."

The American Wind Energy Association says about half of the 75,000 jobs in the nation's wind energy sector -- along with jobs at companies involved in the industry’s supply chain -- would have been at risk if the tax credits had been allowed to expire.

That threat also shelved expansion plans at many of the nearly 500 wind turbine manufacturing facilities across the country. The reduced demand in wind turbine components led to waves of layoffs as industry leaders like Vestas (VWSYF), Siemens (SMAWF) and Gamesa (GCTAY) cut staff.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that at the end of 2011, wind power provided 3% of all electricity generated in the U.S. -- and that number is rising rapidly in the public and private sectors. The Department of Energy estimates wind power could provide 20% of the nation’s energy supplies by 2030.

There are concrete examples around the country of wind power’s entrance into the national grid. Iowa’s largest utility, MidAmerican Energy, currently gets about 30% of its total power generation from wind. New York state, which buys power from 17 wind farms, announced it would put another $250 million into alternative energy products. And the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates that’s state’s largest power grid, said strong winds from a recent cold front contributed to a new wind power record for the Lone Star State.

Some large companies that rely on electricity for their operations are also factoring in wind power investments to control their energy costs. Wal-Mart (WMT) has its own wind farm in West Texas that reportedly supplies 15% of the power needs for over 300 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores. It also installed a massive wind turbine at its distribution center in California last August.

And Reuters reports retail furniture giant IKEA, which owns wind farms in six European countries, is investing nearly $2 billion in solar and wind power -- with a goal of producing as much renewable energy as it consumes by 2020.

But not everyone is cheering the extended wind power subsidies.

"Members of Congress are naturally under pressure from wind farm operators at home to keep the subsidies flowing," said an editorial in the Boston Herald. "But it would amount to a political sin to do so for such an inefficient approach with the national debt ever rising and when abundant natural gas costs only one-quarter what it did four years ago."

And in a recent Wall Street Journal column, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm argued the tax credits "waste taxpayer money, subvert the allocation of capital, and generate a social cost many times the price tag of the subsides themselves."

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Jan 3, 2013 3:21PM

We have bitched about the price of gas and oil since the 70s....

We bitched about communications, satellites and going to the moon in the 60s...

We bitched about the Power Grids too...

We used to bitch about the highways and bridges in the 50s... 


So everytime the Government attempts to wean us off the oil teat...We bitch.

None of this gets done by Waving a Magic Wand....

Any and all great projects "can not" be accomplished by Companies, "start-up" or otherwise.

It takes Government infusion, grants or tax credits...

To make our America the best it can be, for all Americans...

Jan 3, 2013 10:36AM
Stop these special interest credits. Let the investors take their chances.
Jan 3, 2013 1:41PM
We should put a couple thousand of these in D.C.  There are so many windbags there that it will generate enough power for the entire eastern seaboard.
Jan 3, 2013 11:24AM
I have gas all the time////////// Do I get a tax credit for that?????????????????????
Jan 3, 2013 11:50AM

Show a photo with something next to these things, like a house or a car. 


All we ever see are cute little tinker toy turbines with no size comparison. Try 40-50 times the size of a 1 story house! 

Then put them on the ridge lines (after you take all of the trees and foliage away and add freeway sized roads).

Jan 3, 2013 10:23AM
And what about credits for the small backyard version of wind turbines?
Jan 3, 2013 11:42AM

Now we pay 30% of their costs so they can put 50 story, noisy, rotating, flashing turbines within 1500 feet of our property lines.  "They aren't industrial, they are natural resource capturers" 


These monstosities are a crime against nature. 

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