Time for Texas’ lead­ers to sup­port im­por­tant wind-power tax credit

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Bow­man is pres­i­dent of Pioneer Green En­ergy, LLC. based in Austin.


if our lead­ers spent $7 bil­lion on a new su­per­high­way that would bet­ter con­nect key parts of Texas to cre­ate trade, jobs, in­vest­ment and tax rev­enue — but then de­cided, af­ter all the money was com­mit­ted and the high­way had been built, to take steps to make sure it wouldn’t be used? Most peo­ple would say that makes no sense at all.

But that is ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing with Texas’ new elec­tric­ity trans­mis­sion su­per­high­way, called the Com­pet­i­tive Re­new­able En­ergy Zones, or “CREZ,” project. The idea of th­ese new CREZ trans­mis­sion lines is to con­nect Texas’ cheap­est and clean­est en­ergy re­source, the windy ar­eas of the Pan­han­dle and West Texas, with our in­creas­ingly power-hun­gry cities. It is a bold plan to lever­age bil­lions of ratepayer in­vest­ment in or­der to pro­duce many more bil­lions in pri­vate in­vest­ment and eco­nomic growth. Yet just when the CREZ lines are ready to op­er­ate, many Texas lead­ers are turn­ing their backs on wind power and threat­en­ing to turn the CREZ project into a gi­ant bridge to nowhere.

This is hap­pen­ing be­cause, as we count down the last days of 2012, we are also count­ing the last days of the fed­eral Pro­duc­tion Tax Credit or “PTC” for wind en­ergy. The PTC was first passed by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1992 and has been ex­tended on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis many times since then. It works to level the play­ing field for wind en­ergy against the mas­sive tax in­cen­tives and loan guar­an­tees our government pro­vides to coal, nat­u­ral gas and nu­clear com­pa­nies. (A 2006 study by Texas Comptroller Su­san Combs found that wind re­ceives only 3.4 per­cent of all fed­eral en­ergy sup­port, while coal, nu­clear, oil, and gas get more than 50 per­cent.) With­out the PTC in place to counter the fos­sil/nu­clear sub­si­dies, it is un­likely that the next few years will see more than a small frac­tion of the new wind projects orig­i­nally planned for the CREZ lines.

Many of our lead­ers rec­og­nize the need to ex­tend the wind tax credit. U.S. Rep. Mac Thorn­berry, R-Claren­don, in the wind-rich Pan­han­dle, for in­stance, has ad­vo­cated a long-term ex­ten­sion of the wind tax credit, as has Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. A num­ber of Repub­li­can gov­er­nors, sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives are strong sup­port­ers, as are Democrats from the pres­i­dent on down. But af­ter Mitt Rom­ney flip-flopped dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign by speak­ing out against a pro­duc­tion tax credit ex­ten­sion, some Repub­li­cans changed their tune, in­clud­ing many Tex­ans.

No one em­bod­ies the re­ver­sal on wind en­ergy more than Gov. Rick Perry. Back at the CREZ launch cer­e­mony in 2006, Perry said, “This is a land­mark day as the State of Texas part­ners with pri­vate in­dus­try to make a his­toric in­vest­ment ... in new wind en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture that will di­ver­sify our en­ergy pro­duc­tion, clean up our air and help Texas sur­pass our re­new­able en­ergy goals.” He went on, “We are on the lead­ing edge of de­vel­op­ing re­new­able sources of en­ergy and a more di­ver­si­fied en­ergy econ­omy which is key to keep­ing costs down.”

To­day, how­ever, Perry op­poses ex­tend­ing the wind tax credit, and he’s not alone. Texas Sen. John Cornyn voted against the cur­rent Se­nate bill to ex­tend the credit, and six Texas Repub­li­cans — Reps. Joe Barton of En­nis, John Carter of Round Rock, John Cul­ber­son of Hous­ton, Bill Flores of Bryan, Louie Gohmert of Tyler and Pete Ol­son of Sugar Land — signed a let­ter op­pos­ing any ex­ten­sion. Th­ese same con­gress­men are not against en­ergy sub­si­dies, just those for wind; each voted only last year to ex­tend oil in­dus­try sub­si­dies. Other Texas Repub­li­cans are silently op­pos­ing an ex­ten­sion or stand­ing idly by as the clock ticks down. Reps. Randy Neugebauer of Lub­bock and Michael Con­away of Mid­land whose dis­tricts have more wind tur­bines than any oth­ers in the na­tion, won’t say whether they back the cur­rent ex­ten­sion of the wind credit.

What’s changed since 2006? Just pol­i­tics. Given the $7 bil­lion we’re now spend­ing on the CREZ lines, Texas elected of­fi­cials should be lead­ing the charge to re­new the wind tax credit. But they aren’t, and their po­si­tion is very short­sighted when Texas’ en­ergy needs con­tinue to grow, our ru­ral ar­eas con­tinue to strug­gle for in­vest­ment, and wind con­tin­ues to of­fer plen­ti­ful, cheap en­ergy from right here in Texas.

Th­ese are pre­cisely the rea­sons why the CREZ lines made good sense for Texas in 2006, and why they still do in 2012. We’ve al­ready built them. We’re al­ready paying for them. So why not sup­port the wind tax credit to en­sure we can use them?

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