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Wasteful subsidies for ‘big wind’

Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 6:14 am

Sen. Lamar Alexander

Sen. Lamar Alexander


u.s. senator

One of the 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.” Well, my nomination for the most glaring example of a government program that seems to have eternal life is the wind production tax credit.

Last week in Washington, the Senate Finance Committee considered the renewal of the taxpayer subsidy for what I call “Big Wind,” which expired on Jan. 1, 2014. Unfortunately, they those to renew this taxpayer subsidy and passed it out of their committee for consideration by the full Senate.

This tax credit, which was enacted in 1992 to jump-start a new technology, has now been on the books for more than 20 years. This, for a technology that was described by Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary Chu as “mature” in May 2011.

The United States uses 20-25 percent of all the electricity in the world. Where does our electricity come from? We get nearly 40 percent from coal, 27 percent from natural gas, 19 percent from nuclear, seven percent from hydro and only four percent comes from wind power. Of course, wind power is only available when the wind blows, usually at night, when we need it least.

Here are four reasons this tax credit should stay right where it is, expired:

The last one-year extension that expanded the wind production tax credit will cost taxpayers $12 billion over 10 years. For 2014, the two-year extension that was just passed out of the Finance Committee will cost taxpayers nearly another $13 billion over 10 years.

The problem is that Congress is picking winners and losers. When Congress gives wind powers such big subsidy that is sometimes more than the cost of the electricity, it undercuts our coal and nuclear plants. And that puts us at risk as a country that needs these big plants — coal and nuclear — to operate almost all the time to keep the lights on, to support jobs, to keep the cars running, and to make America run.

You could string 20-wstory windmills from Georgia to Maine to produce electricity, scarring the entire eastern landscape. Or you could produce the same amount of electricity with either nuclear power plants on e square mile each. You would still need the nuclear power plants to produce electricity when the wind is not blowing, which is most of the time.

Former Secretary of state George 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. Wind power can potentially create long distances between energy sources and users. That is another reason it makes less sense to subsidize these giant turbines in the Great Plains: then someone has to pay for 700 miles of transmission lines through backyards and nature preserves to get the wind power to Memphis.

After more than 20 years and billions of dollars, it is my hope that when this taxpayer subsidy comes before my colleagues on the Senate floor, the will choose to end this subsidy for good.