Senator: Extending PTC for wind power is like replacing submarines with sailboats

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In advance of the Senate Finance Committee meeting to consider a package of energy- and business-related tax provisions, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called on his colleagues not to renew the expired wind energy production tax credit for a ninth time “after twenty two years and billions of dollars.”

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Alexander said, “One of things we remember most about the late President Ronald Reagan, is what he said about government programs: ‘The closest you will come to eternal life on this earth is a government program.’ My nomination for the most glaring example of a government program that seems to have eternal life is the wind production tax credit, the federal taxpayers' subsidy for what I call ‘Big Wind.’”

“The United States uses 20 to 25 percent of all the electricity in the world… Where does our electricity come from? Four percent of it comes from wind power. Of course, wind power is only available when the wind blows, usually at night, when we need it least … Expecting the United States to operate on windmills is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats while nuclear power is available. It’s even worse than that. It’s the same as destroying our nuclear ships – our nuclear plants, the same way – and replacing them with sailboats," he said.

Wind energy developers receive a tax credit of 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity that is produced by wind turbines. They receive this credit for the first 10 years of operation.

He said there are four main problems with Congress renewing the wind production tax credit for a ninth time:

Problem No. 1: Cost — “The last 1-year extension of the wind production tax credit was $12 billion over 10 years … For 2014 there is another one-year extension, which is being considered by the Finance Committee, and that will be nearly another $6 billion.”

Problem No. 2: Reliability risk — “The problem, here, is that Congress is picking winners and losers. When it gives wind power such a big subsidy that is sometimes more than the cost of the electricity, it undercuts our coal and nuclear plants,” Alexander said. “And what that does is put us at risk as a country… that … needs these big plants to operate almost all the time – coal and nuclear – to keep the lights on, to support jobs, to keep the cars running, and to make America run.”

Problem No. 3: Wind turbines “destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment” — “You could run these 20-story windmills from Georgia to Maine to produce electricity, scarring the entire eastern landscape,” Alexander said. “Or you could produce the same amount of electricity with eight nuclear power plants, and you would still need the nuclear power plants to produce electricity when the wind is not blowing, which is most of the time.”

Problem No. 4: Wind power threatens our energy security — Alexander recounted a meeting with former Secretary of State George Schultz, in which Schultz said that we should generate more energy where we use it. “That’s especially true with military bases. It could be true for the rest of us in this age of terrorism,” Alexander said. Alexander illustrated the potential for wind power to create long distances between energy sources and users, saying, “[if you place] these giant turbines, say, in the Great Plains … someone has to pay for 700 miles of transmission lines through backyards and nature preserves to get the wind power to Memphis—to bring that electricity to Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley.”

At the end of last year, Alexander, who has long been an opponent of the tax credit for wind power, led a bipartisan letter to the Senate Finance Committee, calling on the committee to let the tax credit expire at the end of 2013. Congress allowed the wind production tax credit to expire on Jan. 1, 2014.

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