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Bennet, Udall scrambling to extend credit; Colorado senators say immediate outlook isn’t good

In old Hollywood movies, an actress stranded at the side of the road always could get the next car to stop by raising her skirt and showing a shapely leg.

It might be time for Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet to give that some thought as they try to get the Senate to renew a federal tax credit for wind power manufacturers. For the two Democrats, the credit means saving 1,600 jobs at four Vestas wind power plants in Colorado, including the tower manufacturing plant south of Pueblo.

A Vestas representative on Wednesday told a state legislative committee that most of the 1,800 jobs it has created in Colorado would be lost if a federal tax credit is not extended.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate turned away the tax credit on a 49-49 vote with Republicans lined up against it. The credit was one of 19 business tax credits in an amendment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and it needed 60 votes to get attached to the wide-ranging transportation bill the Senate approved Wednesday.

For Bennet and Udall, that setback came after Senate and House negotiators left the wind power credit out of the hard-fought measure that extended a 2 percent payroll tax deduction earlier this year.

Both senators vowed Tuesday to keep working but the immediate outlook isn’t good. The next legislation heading for the Senate is a financial deregulation bill – dubbed the Jobs Bill – that passed the House last week with much fanfare and bipartisan support.

Senate leaders said Wednesday that they will allow very few amendments to the jobs measure and the wind power credit won’t be one of them.

“We’ve asked for a vote on Senator Bennet’s amendment but the leadership is saying that’s not going to happen,” a spokesman for Bennet said Wednesday. “But the senator is determined to keep trying to find any means he can to get this passed.”

Udall also is pressing ahead by drafting a separate bill to renew the wind credit, hoping to get influential Republican senators to co-sponsor the measure. Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, for example, supports wind power but voted against the Stabenow package of tax credits on Tuesday.

“I’m working with other senators to introduce a bill to get the wind energy production tax credit extended and will look for every opportunity possible to ensure our country’s leadership in the global energy economy,” Udall said in a statement Wednesday.

Several Republicans told reporters after Tuesday’s vote they are willing to extend the wind power credit, but objected to others in the Stabenow amendment. The one that drew the most GOP criticism would have extended a renewable energy grant program created by President Barack Obama in his 2009 federal stimulus legislation.

Vestas and other wind power manufacturers have argued that without the federal tax credit, their industry will sharply slump and history supports that.

Congress first established the wind power tax credit in 1992. It’s paid to wind turbine owners for the power they produce, not to manufacturers. But the credit makes the purchase of wind towers attractive.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, when the tax credit expired in 1999, new wind power construction fell by 93 percent the following year. Production doubled once the credit was restored but Congress let it lapse again in 2001 and production once again fell by 73 percent the following year. A similar slump occurred in 2004.

The tax credit has been steadily renewed since 2005 and the amount of power produced by wind power since then has grown by 500 percent, to a peak of 10,000 megawatts in 2009. The current credit will expire in December, but Vestas and other manufacturers say they need it renewed soon or their manufacturing orders will slump for 2013.