Mitt Romney's stated opposition to extending the wind energy tax credit, due to expire at the end of the year, represents a threat to the Kern County economy -- and a potential dilemma for Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
To many Republicans, green energy is one of those dirty Obama words. But it's also a growth industry for Kern County -- McCarthy's constituency -- and many regions of the country. In the Midwest, for example, wind power is providing income for farmers who lease land for turbines during a drought that has caused significant crop and livestock losses. The wind industry now employs more than 100,000 people nationwide. And wind energy promotes energy independence, a goal supported by a majority of Americans.
The wind energy tax credit in question allows wind farms to receive a credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity they produce. It expires at the end of this year -- and if allowed to lapse could leave the industry in chaos. The loss could cost the U.S. 37,000 jobs and stymie investment in wind production. China, gunning to take over the industry, would gain a leg up on its U.S. competitors. Just the talk of expiring tax credits has some companies that manufacture wind turbines and other parts halting production and laying off workers, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Meanwhile, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Senate Finance Committee last week passed a one-year extension of the wind energy tax break. This came just four days after Romney's campaign declared that the presumptive Republican presidential candidate "will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits."
"Wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive," the Romney spokesman said.
The problem with this argument is that a level playing field doesn't exist in the energy sector. Almost every form of energy receives subsidies of some sort, in the form of tax breaks, credits or direct investment. And in the case of fossil fuels, those subsidies have been around much longer than renewable energy credits, and many don't have expiration dates.
Romney and other conservatives may still be raw over Solyndra, but there's a big difference between the wind production tax credit and a half-billion-dollar grant given to one company under the name of economic stimulus. Wind producers only get the tax credit when they produce wind power. The tax credits have helped the industry tremendously over the years.
Romney's opposition to the tax credit will really only matter, of course, if he's elected president. We wonder if he fully considered how his chances in November might be impacted by the fact that 81 percent of all wind capacity installed in the United States is in congressional districts represented by Republicans, including important swing states like Iowa, Colorado and Ohio. Despite that, an extension of the tax credit is hardly assured: Some conservative Republicans in the House want to eliminate all tax subsidies.
Here's a case where McCarthy needs to summon up some political courage and do what his constituents, rather than his party's likely standard-bearer, would want him to do. It's clear McCarthy supports wind energy tax breaks, since he introduced legislation in 2009 to have the tax credits extended for more than a decade. In support of the bill, he wrote: "Providing long term stability through the WIND Energy Act would help create sustainable, good-paying jobs."
At the moment, that kind of support doesn't seem to fit into the GOP playbook, but it's the right thing for McCarthy to do nonetheless. Many of McCarthy's Republican colleagues have already made clear they oppose Romney on this issue and they've thrown their support behind renewal of the credits. McCarthy, who is in a position of some influence in Congress, should do to the same.