Though federal support for renewable energy was a serious partisan dividing during the 2012 Presidential campaign, a group of Republican governors of western and midwestern states is pushing for renewal of one of the most-often criticized pieces of the Obama administration's renewable energy policy: a tax credit given to owners of wind turbines.
The Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), which rewards owners of wind turbines with 2.2 cents for each kilowatt-hour of power their turbines produce, is set to expire at the end of the year. Since it looked as though Republican opposition to the tax credit would prove an obstacle to its extension, a number of wind turbine companies in the U.S. have been closing facilities and laying off workers in anticipation of sharply reduced demand.
In a letter sent to Congressional leaders today, Republican Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa and and his Democratic counterpart John Kitzhaber of Oregon urged Congress to " take swift action to extend the PTC before the end of this congressional session."
In their letter, sent on behalf of the Governors' Wind Energy Coalition, the two said:
[W]ithout a PTC extension, it is estimated that the U.S. economy will lose 37,000 wind industry jobs and the opportunity to leverage over $10 billion of private investment. Our states are already seeing these impacts."
For a typical 1.5 megawatt wind turbine, the income from the PTC could amount to more than $30 for each hour the turbine operated at full capacity. In addition to sales of power from the turbines, this constitutes a significant incentive for development of wind turbines -- and it's no surprise that the PTC's expiration might well depress the market for new turbines.
Other Republican governors in support of a PTC extension include Kansas' Sam Brownback and Richard Snyder of Michigan.
The split in the Republican position on the PTC stems from the fact that many of the states most amenable to wind energy development happen to be in the conservative West and midwest. Texas leads the country by far with the most already-installed wind generation capacity, at almost 11 gigawatts as of September. The other four states in the top five are California, Iowa, Oregon, and Illinois. The Dakotas, Wyoming, and Minnesota are also deeply committed to wind power development. The American Wind Energy Association says that 81 percent of wind energy installations are in Republican-leaning congressional districts.
Especially in states like the Dakotas and Wyoming, with otherwise bleak economic realities, a thriving windpower industry is tempting even for governors belonging to the party that opposes renewable energy subsidies.
But the governors' aren't assured of support from the House, party ties notwithstanding. According to a report on the blog The Hill, Republican representatives from some of those same states are gearing up to do battle with any proposed extension of the PTC. Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo is leading a charge to oppose the PTC extension as part of the upcoming "fiscal cliff" negotiations, a move that puts him in direct conflict with his home state's Governor Sam Brownback -- a stalwart PTC supporter. It may well be that renewable energy policy proves more effective as a source of infighting within the Republican Party than it did as a rhetorical weapon against the Democrats.
Correction: an earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that Republican governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, a member of the Governors' Wind Energy Coalition, had endorsed an extension of the PTC. He has not. ReWire regrets the error.