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Politicians refine their stances on wind power

JOHNSTOWN – It is uncertain what the differences will be, if any, between the 12th Congressional District’s outgoing and incoming representatives concerning the federal wind production tax credit.

U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, is a strong supporter of the incentive, which provides producers of wind energy a 2.2-cent tax reduction for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. Republican Keith Rothfus, an Allegheny County attorney who defeated Critz in the recent general election, has yet to state an opinion.

House and Senate members are debating the issue during a current lame-duck session.

The credit is set to expire on Dec. 31 before Rothfus takes office on Jan. 3.

Critz supports the measure, which has helped bring hundreds of windmills and a Gamesa blade manufacturing plant to the region.

“The financial impact is obvious,” said Jim Penna, Critz’s district director. “There is the energy impact and the impact on the environment. From the congressman’s standpoint, these are good-paying jobs, steady work in a growth industry. Sometimes, in a growth industry, you kind of have to walk it through its infancy, and the production tax credit has successfully done that.”

For Rothfus, the tax credit is one of many issues he has been learning about since winning the election.

“I’ll take a look at it,” Rothfus said. “I really haven’t looked at that. I need to be beefed up on it.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, whose 9th district includes parts of Cambria and Somerset counties, where the wind industry has grown rapidly in recent years, wants to keep the credit in place at least during the short term.

“I support an all-of-the-above energy plan and the production tax credit and recognize the positive impact it has on jobs and production,” said Shuster. “I also believe there must be a plan in place on how to get the wind industry off of the tax credit, so they can eventually succeed without government assistance.”

Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, the current 4th district congressman who lost to Critz in the 12th primary when their districts were drawn together, recently took to the House floor to support the measure. “Investing in renewable energy is key to creating new jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and promoting economic growth,” Altmire said. “In Pennsylvania, the wind industry supports 4,000 jobs and powers 180,000 homes, including homes in the Pittsburgh area.”

Pennsylvania’s two senators disagree on the matter.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey wants to let the credit expire. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, supports its extension.

“Senator Casey believes Congress should work in a bipartisan way to help wean the U.S. off foreign oil because it will reduce the price at the pump, create Pennsylvania jobs and grow the economy,” said John Rizzo, Casey’s press secretary. “Becoming energy independent means fully taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas resources, the country’s supply of domestic oil and wind energy, which can be done by extending the production tax credit.”