Obama and Romney: Which Way Are the Wind Farms Blowing?

The candidates each take a stand on tax breaks for wind energy, but others disagree with both of them.
Windmills and corn stand side by side in Iowa. (Rick Gerharter/Getty)
Aug 1, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

“The lines are now drawn on a political hot button in Iowa: a lucrative tax break for wind energy. Mitt Romney is against it, President Barack Obama favors it—opposing stances that could have political and economic implications in Iowa, which has more wind energy jobs than any other state in the nation,” reports the Des Moines Register.

“Advocates for the tax break say jobs would be at risk if it disappears. Critics of the tax break, which will cost the federal government $1.6 billion this year, say it’s time for energy producers to make it on their own without government subsidies.”

Politico noted that, “While aides had previously said Romney hoped to end the [Production Tax Credit] PTC, he had never outlined a specific plan for doing so. The decision could put Romney at odds with some Republicans in the wind-rich Midwest.”

MORE: Obama and Romney Are Decidely Not Climate Change Debaters

And then, of course, the back and forth accusations followed. As reported by Politico: “'By opposing an extension to the wind production tax credit, Mitt Romney has come out against growth of the wind industry to support 100,000 jobs by 2016 and 500,000 jobs by 2030, Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher said in a statement . . . ‘Meanwhile, he supports $4 billion in oil and gas subsidies for companies that have rarely been more profitable.’”

“But Romney won praise from conservative groups. ‘Gov. Romney is absolutely correct to oppose an extension of the tax credit for wind production,’ Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. ‘Subsidies for the energy industry distort the marketplace and are simply bad policy. If a market exists for wind production, the private sector will create it, not government.’”

Where does the truth lie? Probably somewhere in the middle.

Last August, Recharge Newsletter summarized a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that looked at the government’s energy-specific subsidies. It stated, “Biofuels received $6.64 billion last year, the most federal assistance within the renewables sector, up 66.4 percent from $3.99 billion in 2007. Wind was next with $4.98 billion, more than a 10-fold increase from $476 million. Solar and biomass received $1.11 billioneach, versus $179 million and $61 million respectively.

In other words, everyone is getting a lot of help.

That may be why many people are against subsidizing any form of energy production. Jigar Shah, CEO of the nonprofit Carbon War Room, summarized this viewpoint in Fast Company saying, “The federal government should get rid of permanent energy subsidies for all energy sources, including fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels. This would force everyone to innovate, compete and win—or lose—on their own merits . . . Phasing out all permanent energy subsidies will give birth to competition for energy on a level playing field. May the best solutions win.”

Do you think all energy subsidies should be phased out? Will the Iowa wind farm debate predict which way the winds will blow the candidates’ fortunes?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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