Mitt Romney’s opposition to tax breaks for wind farms puts him at odds with conservative support for renewable energy in states such as Iowa and Texas that have built the largest wind industries with taxpayer help.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee favors more oil drilling and fewer clean-air regulations and has voiced opposition to government backing for wind and solar projects.
Romney hasn’t taken a position on renewing a federal tax credit for wind power that’s set to expire Dec. 31, though he’s ridiculed government subsidies for turbines. Republican lawmakers are backing a bill to extend the incentive. President Barack Obama supports the credit and says it will create jobs.
Romney’s faith in free markets to develop alternative energy sources may be misguided, Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican, said in an interview.
He “believes that the market will take care of this,” Bartlett said. “I wish that were true. I think the market signals will be too late and inadequate and that we will face very serious energy shortages.”
Bartlett is co-sponsoring The American Renewable-Energy Production Tax Extension Credit Act of 2011, which would extend through 2016 the 2.2-cent-a-kilowatt-hour credit for electricity produced by wind turbines, biomass, geothermal and landfill-gas plants. The issue will intensify this week as executives gather in Atlanta for the Windpower 2012 annual conference.
The act was introduced in November and has 101 co-sponsors including more than 20 Republicans from states such as Texas, Illinois and Oklahoma. It’s supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and more than 400 turbine-component makers, developers and trade groups, according to the American Wind Energy Association, which also endorsed the bill.
Romney has criticized Obama’s efforts to promote clean energy. At a May 31 campaign event in front of Solyndra LLC’s shuttered factory, he said a U.S.-backed loan for the bankrupt Fremont, California-based solar company was an example of “crony capitalism” that demonstrates the folly of supporting expensive renewable-power sources.
That echoed comments he’s made elsewhere. “In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy,” Romney said in a March 5 editorial in the Columbus Dispatch. “This vision has failed.”
He’s pledged to amend the Clean Air Act to exclude greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that scientists say causes global warming and would shift renewable-energy funding to basic research instead of subsidies for power projects.
Romney’s position baffles some lawmakers in his party. Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, didn’t respond to two e-mails seeking comment.
“Now is the time for stability in the wind industry” and the production tax credit offers that, Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said April 25 on a conference call organized by AWEA.
“The certainty that extending the PTC provides can and will spur growth and development, reduce electricity costs and create jobs,” Representative Dave Reichert, the Washington Republican who introduced the bill, said on the same call.
The presidential candidate’s views may also cost him votes from Republican wind-industry executives.
“Romney’s got it wrong on this issue,” said Steve Lockard, chief executive officer of blade maker TPI Composites Inc. and a registered Republican. “If Romney doesn’t change his mind by November, I won’t be voting for him.” Lockard also serves on AWEA’s board.
The company is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and manufactures blades in Newton, Iowa. “Republicans running for office are saying that wind costs too much but our costs have come down significantly,” Lockard said. “I’d like to see Romney have a conversation with Steve King and work from the facts about this industry.”
Obama toured TPI’s Iowa plant May 24 and called on Congress to extend the tax credit. The former Maytag factory employs more than 700 people making 160-foot (49-meter) fiberglass blades for turbines including General Electric Co. (GE:US)’s 1.6 megawatt model.
“It’s got to be done now,” Obama told a crowd of employees and visitors. “If Congress doesn’t act, companies like this one will take a hit. Today we have 500 facilities in 43 states employing tens of thousands of workers. That progress is in jeopardy.”
Iowa’s Republican Governor Terry Branstad, both its senators and all five congressmen have endorsed extending the tax credit, according to AWEA.
There are about 75,000 U.S. wind-industry workers, according to AWEA. Letting the credit lapse will lead to the elimination of 10,000 wind-industry jobs this year and another 27,000 in 2012, the trade group estimates.
“It should be the role of both presidential candidates to support an all-of-the-above energy policy,” Denise Bode, AWEA’s CEO, said today at the Atlanta conference. The trade group has met with Romney’s campaign “and we’re trying to educate them on the benefits of wind.”
“We hope Congress can come together and get this passed, Rob Gramlich, AWEA’s senior vice president for public policy, said in an interview. The bill was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee, where he said it may stall because it’s narrowly focused on a single tax credit and may not garner enough attention on its own to move forward. ‘‘The problem is finding a viable vehicle.”
Texas is the largest wind-producing state with 10,337 megawatts, equivalent to about ten nuclear reactors, and Iowa gets as much as 20 percent of its electricity from installed turbines. The two states, along with Illinois, also have the most jobs in the wind industry with a combined 20,000 workers, AWEA said.
Not all conservative lawmakers from windy states support tax credits for turbines.
“It’s refreshing to see a presidential candidate show up in a state like Iowa and not kowtow to the wind and ethanol industries,” Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, said in an interview.
“Eventually you’ve got to take the training wheels off,” he said. “What about the jobs displaced by the government picking wind over natural gas or coal? I like wind, but the prediction of doom and gloom is overstated.”
The looming deadline is already slowing growth in the wind industry, said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.
“It’s having disastrous effects on the supply chain because you have to have steel in the ground by Dec. 31 to get the credits,” Greene said in an interview. “The pipeline of projects has already stopped growing. We just can’t have a debate about improving renewable-energy incentives while we’re racing toward a cliff.”
The Bloomberg Wind Energy Index of 64 companies has dropped 14 percent this year on concern that U.S. demand for turbines will slow.
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