While the budget crisis is forcing state leaders to reconsider tax deals, we hope they’ll take a long, hard, jaundice look at wind energy incentives.
We aren’t against wind energy. It’s clean, renewable and definitely should be a big part of our future electrical generation infrastructure. We love wind energy.
But the incentives the state has given big wind generators are outrageous. They go far beyond creating incentive for generating clean energy to creating a windmill-driven jackpot at the expense of Oklahoma’s schools, roads and public safety.
Last year, the Legislature made progress on this issue by phasing out property tax exemptions to wind farms, but there is more to be done. The state is still bleeding money on special, zero-emissions tax credits aimed at renewable energy generation.
The zero-emission tax credits are refundable, meaning wind corporations can actually earn a profit by amassing more in credits than they owe in taxes; and they are uncapped, meaning there is no limit to how much the state could pay out.
In November, Oklahoma’s corporate income tax receipts were negative – the state paid out more in refunds ($49.8 million) than it collected in taxes ($17.6 million). Those refunds included $22.8 million in zero-emission credits, according to Oklahoma Tax Commission figures gathered by Windwaste, a nonprofit advocacy group that campaigns against the harmful effects of the wind industry.
Look at those numbers again. The zero-emission tax credits alone were enough in November to take the tax collections on all Oklahoma corporations into the red.
In December, corporate tax receipts were up to $56.1 million, but there were still $6.45 million in zero-emission tax credit refunds pulling down the state’s revenue.
Oklahoma pays a first-year school teacher $32,000 a year, but gives $38,000 a year per turbine to wind farms, Windwaste says.
The group estimates that under the current tax structure recent wind farm generation growth announcements and projects in the works could cost the state more than $2.4 billion over 10 years.
Much of that money is going to foreign companies to create energy that is already sold to utilities outside of Oklahoma. The whole thing creates relatively few permanent jobs here.
It’s not easy to speak out against wind energy, and we aren’t. We’re speaking out against excessive tax incentives to corporations that generate wind energy.
At the very least, the state should follow the pattern of other states and cap its potential payout for zero-emission credits. Otherwise, we are writing a blank check to big wind.
For the record, we continue to call for revision of tax incentives to the fossil fuel industry, too. But the wind incentives are disproportionate and threaten the state’s fiscal future. They have to be reined in.
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