A top Republican lawmaker said Wednesday that long-standing federal subsidies on the wind farm industry should be allowed to expire at the end of the year, calling wind energy unreliable, too expensive and damaging to the environment.
While wind energy interests have launched a concerted campaign to preserve the tax break, "These are not your grandma's windmills," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.
The new power-generating wind turbines "destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment," Mr. Alexander said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, contending that the monolithic turbines destroy the aesthetics of the landscape and even knock eagles out of the sky.
The future of the subsidy could hang on an amendment in the massive highway bill now before the Senate. Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, and Sen. Michael F. Bennet, Colorado Democrat, sponsored the amendment extending the wind energy production tax credit for another year.
American Wind Energy Association spokesman Jon Goldstein said that if the tax credits are not renewed, "The wind industry would be cut in half" and 37,000 U.S. jobs would be lost.
The tax credit, which dates back to 1992, will expire at year's end if not renewed.
The wind companies see their industry is an "American success story," according to John A. Purcell, vice president of wind energy at Leeco Steel, a supplier of raw materials for wind farm construction. He said in January the wind industry will become self-sufficient in the next 10 years, provide inexpensive electricity, and grow into an energy giant surpassing oil, coal and natural gas - but that it needs the federal subsidy for now to be established.
The subsidies the federal government provides are in the form of tax credits, not loans or grants.
"There's nothing that we're asking for upfront that would just dissolve, and taxpayer money that would be wasted," Mr. Purcell said.
But Mr. Alexander, who repeated his criticisms in a Senate floor speech later in the day, said extending the tax break, at a time of budget crisis, is fiscally irresponsible.
"Wind gets more breaks than oil," he said.
And the giant turbines don't always turn. When the winds stand still, the energy grid needs the backup power of gas-fueled or coal-fueled power plants.
"Wind turbines produce a relatively puny amount of expensive, unreliable energy," Mr. Alexander said, adding that wind produces 2.3 percent of the nation's overall energy and only 8 percent of America's "green" energy.
He acknowledged that killing the tax credit was "not going to be easy to do."
"There are more lobbyists per square foot on this issue than I've seen in a long time, which is an indication of the billions of taxpayer dollars that are going into the pockets of wealthy people who benefit, and companies who benefit, from these tax breaks," Mr. Alexander said.
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