Alexander: Time to Wind Down Wind Subsidies

Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:28am

Wind power supporters have proclaimed this “Wind Week” in Washington, launching events to pressure Congress to extend the wind production tax credit, which is set to expire next month.

As we work to avoid the fiscal cliff, I suggest a different name — “Wind Down Wind Week.” It’s time to end this 20-year-old “temporary” taxpayer subsidy.

The main reason is we can’t afford it. According to the Joint Tax Committee, just a one-year extension of the production tax credit will mean $12.1 billion in taxpayer subsidies to wind developers over the next 10 years.

That’s on top of the $16 billion in federal subsidies and grants already given to wind developers and their Wall Street backers from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2013.

How can Congress justify such wasteful spending at a time when the government is borrowing 42 cents of every dollar it spends?

We hear a lot about government subsidies for Big Oil, but what about Big Wind? According to the Energy Information Agency, in 2007, “Big Wind” received an $18.82 federal subsidy per megawatt hour — 25 times as much per megawatt hour as all other forms of electricity production combined. Given our fiscal crisis, Congress should eliminate special tax breaks for both Big Oil and Big Wind.

The wind tax break was put in place in 1992 as a temporary measure to boost a new technology. Now, 20 years later, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has pronounced it a “mature” technology.

After 20 years and billions in subsidies, wind produces a puny amount of unreliable electricity. The United States uses 20 to 25 percent of all the electricity produced in the world. Wind produces just 3 percent of that. And, of course, wind power is available only when the wind blows. You can’t easily store it. So it is of limited use for a country that needs huge amounts of reliable, low-cost electricity. Relying on windpower is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when nuclear subs are available.

The wind subsidy is so large that wind developers are actually paying distributors to take their wind power, undercutting the nuclear and coal plants that are necessary to provide the reliable, low-cost electricity our country needs.

On top of all this, there are better ways to produce clean electricity than by subsidizing giant wind turbines that destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment. For example, it would take a row of 50-story wind turbines planted along the entire length of the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine to equal the energy production of four nuclear reactors.

The best way to create jobs in America is to let the marketplace produce large amounts of clean, reliable energy for all businesses and households — not to subsidize jobs for a technology that can stand on its own and only produces a small amount of unreliable energy.

Let us use this week to celebrate the end of the wind production tax credit and use the $12.1 billion saved to reduce the debt.

Sen. Lamar Alexander is ranking Republican on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee .