Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign definitively said Monday that he would not extend a wind production tax credit that expires at the end of the year, the latest in a growing skirmish between the Republican presidential hopeful and President Barack Obama.
With as many as 7,000 employees in the state, Iowa’s wind energy industry is just a sliver of the state’s work force. But it also leads the nation in the number of wind-related jobs. Also, a bipartisan lineup of lawmakers in the state want to extend the credit in the hopes of growing the industry.
Twenty percent of the state’s electricity production is due to wind, and backers say there’s plenty of room to grow. Manufacturers of components have popped up in some parts of the state.
The Obama campaign has been hammering Romney recently for criticizing the industry and for past campaign statements that made it appear he didn’t support the credit extension. On a conference call Monday, former U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena said thousands of people in places like Iowa and Colorado depend on the industry for their jobs.
“In our judgment, Mitt Romney would let this growing wind industry essentially die,” he said. Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who also was on the call, said it showed that Romney was out of touch with the Midwest’s needs.
Obama has called for extension of the credit, and in May, he took that message to a Newton plant that makes wind turbine blades.
Romney has criticized the administration’s approach to energy, and he’s said he would take an all-of-the- above approach to energy production. But he’s taken a dim view of subsidies for renewables, writing in a newspaper op-ed in March, “In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy.“
On Monday, an Iowa spokesman said the president’s pledge of creating 5 million green energy jobs has failed.
“Mitt Romney believes it is a time for a new approach to ensure our nation’s energy independence. He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits,” spokesman Shawn McCoy said. He said the wind industry will thrive where it is economically competitive and wherever private sector competitors believe investments will produce results.
Wind energy officials in Iowa say without the credit extension, new projects won’t get built. Already, the uncertainty over the credit’s future has stalled new orders, officials say.
“By the end of this third quarter, we’re going to be almost down to zero production and shipment of major components,” said Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association. He did not speculate on how many jobs might be lost if the credit isn’t renewed.
Earlier this year, the American Wind Energy Association cited a study saying 37,000 jobs would be lost without the credit extension.
“What’s really going to be halted is our expansion,” Prior said.
Already, at least one Republican lawmaker reacted to Romney’s statement. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said Monday afternoon the position showed a misunderstanding of the importance of the credit. “It’s the wrong decision,” he said, urging Romney to re-evaluate the statement issued by the campaign.
The Obama camp dismisses Romney’s talk of an even playing field, saying he hasn’t shirked from backing subsidies for the oil and gas industry and that some of the super PACs backing his campaign are made up of oil and gas interests.
Since taking office, Obama has promoted wind and other renewable energy as a way to rely less on foreign sources of energy. In 2008, he said a $150 billion investment could create 5 million jobs in the industry over 10 years. And the 2009 stimulus devoted $90 billion toward clean energy initiatives and conservation efforts, such as weatherization of homes. Some of that money went to a Fort Madison wind turbine maker, which Obama visited two years ago.
Romney’s campaign has questioned the stimulus spending on renewable energy. He’s criticized the investment in Solyndra, a California-based solar panel maker that went bankrupt after getting $535 million in government loans. Some of Romney’s campaign ads have also pointed to Obama donors being connected to companies that got government help.
McCoy said that American wind and solar energy sectors produce just 1 percent of the nation’s energy, and that the industry has shed 10,000 jobs since 2009. “President Obama’s promise to ‘easily’ create 5 million green energy jobs has become a particularly depressing punch line amidst the endless disappointments of the last four years,” he said.
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