Wind Energy and the Battleground States

Wind energy is a boon for the economy and the environment. Why does Romney oppose extending the Wind Production Tax Credit?The presidential election is shaping up to be a close one and renewable energy could be a deciding factor with both candidates on opposite sides of an effort to extend the Wind Production Tax Credit that expires at the end of the year. Some estimate that nationally 37,000 jobs will disappear if the tax credit is not renewed. Obama is campaigning aggressively to renew the tax credit while Romney has said the tax credit should expire. Nationally, wind energy capacity has doubled during the first few years of the Obama administration. Will this momentum continue?

The small state of Iowa, in which Romney and Obama are currently tied, generates the second most wind energy in the country, second to Texas. So it is no surprise that Iowa’s Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Senator Charles Grassley are outspoken supporters of extending the tax credit and are publicly very upset at the position Romney has taken. Branstad said Romney is “confused” and his staff needs to get educated. Grassley claimed that he needed to be consulted before Romney’s position was released. Who knows what has been said privately to Romney from Iowa Republicans, but their public comments betray a hefty amount of outrage.

While Obama won this battleground state fairly easily in 2008, recent polls show Obama and Romney neck and neck. Obama is bringing up the wind tax credit every chance he gets and representatives of the Iowa Republican Party officials are angry when he brings it up, preferring to change the subject to the national jobs picture. The unemployment rate in Iowa is relatively low.

Has Romney written-off victory in this crucial battleground state? Currently, the wind power industry employs more than 7,000 people throughout the state and a Cedar Rapids wind company Clipper Windpower laid off 174 employees in August because of delays extending the tax credit. If Romney wins, will he veto any effort to renew the credit?

And it’s not just Iowa. In Ohio, which electoral statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight identifies as the largest tipping point state in the election, wind has become a major industry. Silver says Ohio has a 32 percent chance of determining the winner of the presidential election. By comparison, Florida only has a 19 percent chance of determining the winner. According to wind energy executive, Richard Morrison, “Wind energy provides 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, invested more than half a billion dollars in the state and contributes more than $2.5 million a year in local property taxes.”

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is also highlighting the tax credit in Nevada and Colorado, where Obama currently holds a small lead in both states. In Colorado, uncertainty over the fate of tax credit has led to layoffs by the wind company Vestas.

Finally in the economically depressed state of Nevada, Republican Senator Dean Heller, who is in a closely contested election, has declared his support for the tax credit because huge wind farms are proposed for his state. Heller currently holds a small lead over his challenger, Democrat Shelly Berkeley. Will Romney’s many Mormon friends deliver this state in spite of his opposition to the tax credit? We shall see.

So the question is why in the world would Romney be so outspoken against renewing this credit? The politics certainly do not make sense and may be hurting him in the states he needs to win on Election Day. The key group fighting against the renewal of this tax credit is Americans for Prosperity a lobbying organization founded by Charles and David Koch, the infamous Koch brothers. These billionaire brothers attained and maintain their wealth through the exploitation of fossil fuels. The Koch brothers have a pet peeve with the tax credit because wind’s growing prominence has a negative effect on their profit margin. The billionaire brothers are huge donors to both the Romney campaign and the Republican Party.

While previously the Republican Party Platform supported the wind production tax credit, now the Platform states the Party, “will let the free market and the public’s preferences determine the industry outcomes.” This is the same argument the Romney campaign is using when speaking out against renewing the tax credit. Will the Republican Party’s thirst for Koch millions doom its chances in November? Stay tuned.

 Image credit: 4Neus, courtesy flickr

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