Congress has renewed a wind energy tax credit in its “fiscal cliff” bill that will help Fred Ruskin’s plan to build Arizona’s largest wind farm north of Prescott.
Ruskin got a multi-year extension last month on Yavapai County’s approval of his plan for a series of 81 lighted wind turbines that are 436 feet tall across a 37,000-acre swath of his huge Yavapai Ranch about 35 miles north of Prescott. The plan also includes solar panels on 160 acres and 35 miles of new roads.
It’s proposed on the same grasslands that the Prescott National Forest was supposed to acquire through a land exchange that Ruskin cancelled last year. The Forest Service wanted to consolidate its lands and preserve prime pronghorn antelope habitat.
Ruskin and NextEra Energy Resources, one of the largest wind farm builders in the country, never submitted a final site plan for the wind farm within the one-year deadline after originally getting approval for the plan in September 2011.
Last month the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors approved Ruskin’s request for four years to submit a final site plan instead of the current one year; five years instead of two years to get building permits; and eight years to get a certificate of compliance instead of five years.
Government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department requested several requirements to protect wildlife in that project, but none were included in the county approval.
Federal agencies would require various studies before granting other permits to the wind farm.
NextEra represented Ruskin at the 2011 wind farm hearings, but didn’t attend hearings late in 2012. NextEra officials have not returned several calls seeking comment about whether the company is still involved in the project.
“Their (NextEra) exact position here is to me somewhat unclear,” Ruskin told county planning commissioners in November. He said a federal tax credit for wind farms was set to expire at the end of 2012 and that could affect the future of the wind farm project.
The supervisors also approved Ruskin’s request last month for a zoning change for the right to build 12,500 homes and 96 acres of commercial development on his 51,000-acre ranch.
Yavapai Ranch is a finalist for the Cherenkov international telescope array, too.
Tax credit details
The tax credit for the production of wind, solar and other renewable energy will cost federal government coffers $12.2 billion.
The renewable energy tax credit is among a long list of tax credits Congress included in the “fiscal cliff” tax package this week. In all, more than 50 temporary tax breaks were renewed through 2013, saving businesses and individuals about $76 billion.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Prescott voted against the fiscal cliff bill package, saying the nation has an “illness (of) out-of-control spending, borrowing and taxing.”
“The bill passed tonight raised taxes $41 for every $1 cut,” Gosar said Wednesday. “This is not how we get our nation back on track.”
Congress routinely renews the tax package, attracting intense lobbying and campaign donations from businesses and trade groups that say the tax breaks help them prosper and create jobs.
Contrary to Ruskin’s statement to county officials, the tax breaks were allowed to expire at the end of 2011 as lawmakers struggled to reach consensus on a wide range of tax issues.
But the package approved by Congress this week and signed by President Barack Obama late Wednesday renews the tax breaks retroactively, so taxpayers can claim them on both their 2012 and 2013 tax returns.
The U.S. wind sector had its strongest year ever, as companies rushed to get wind farms built before the tax credit ran out. In total, 50,000 megawatts’ worth of wind turbines power 13 million American homes. Together, wind and solar make up about 5 percent of the nation’s electricity supply.
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