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Spin this: booming wind industry still seeks subsidies

Here’s a challenge: How do you keep clamoring for subsidies when your industry shatters growth records with numbing regularity?

Wind power in the U.S. is going great guns. The American Wind Energy Association said today the industry added 1,400 megawatts in the first quarter. That’s basically the equivalent of a new nuclear plant, and one of the best quarters ever for wind in the U.S. It comes on top of two record-breaking years, when the U.S. added more wind power than any country in the world.

And it comes even as Congress keeps dithering over the renewal of clean-energy tax credits. They expire later this year, and—since they make wind power more cost-competitive with regular electricity generation—have historically been crucial to the industry’s development.

They apparently still are. Even while cheering the “breakneck” pace of wind-power growth in the U.S., wind lobby boss Randall Swisher launched his latest salvo at the Hill:

“But if Congress does not act quickly, this momentum could be derailed at the worst possible time for the economy, placing 76,000 jobs and over $11.5 billion in investment at risk,“ Swisher added. “While 2008 is shaping up to be another great year, we could see a very different story in 2009 as uncertainty looms over investment in wind power projects and manufacturing due to continuing delay in extending the production tax credit (PTC),” Swisher added.

Sound familiar? It should. Even during the two sweetest years for U.S. wind power, the industry has never stopped fretting over when the cavalry would arrive in the form of more subsidies.

After a record year in 2006, the AWEA called for a five-year extension of tax credits. In early 2007, state policies were the ticket—like Texas, whose renewable-energy mandates made it the country’s wind-power leader. Federal renewable standards were the argument of choice in mid-2007. Why not the whole kitchen sink? Tax credits plus federal and state clean-energy mandates–that was the mantra later in 2007. Even when the AWEA had to revise upward its record-breaking numbers late last year, it still warned how precarious the industry’s growth is.

Granted, price supports have been crucial to the development of wind power everywhere. European countries like Denmark, Germany, and Spain became world leaders after they passed long-term, generous subsidies for wind. Major industry players like Vestas, the Danish turbine maker, have long called for the U.S. to support the industry over the long haul, not year-to-year.

But when consumers are already being battered by higher prices for gasoline (and electricity), and your industry is thriving, how easy is it to keep pleading for more help?

Posted by Keith Johnson

Environmental Capital


7 May 2008