White House touts wind energy against Romney

The White House is touting a new report on wind power during President Obama’s campaign stop in Iowa, contrasting his views with those of GOP challenger Mitt Romney in the wind-heavy swing state.

The Energy Department (DOE) released its sixth annual "Wind Technologies Market Report" on Tuesday. It showed 32 percent of newly installed power-generating capacity in 2011 came from wind, amounting to $14 billion of investment.

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The report also said ending the wind production tax credit (PTC), which pays wind producers 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, could “dramatically” slow new wind installations in 2013.

The Obama offensive on energy points to a clear divide between him and Romney, who recently advocated for letting the PTC end Dec. 31 as scheduled. The incumbent’s messaging has amped up since Romney made the statement, showing that Obama thinks he can turn Romney’s position into a campaign liability.

“Right now, homegrown energy, things like wind energy — creating new jobs all across the states like Iowa — and Gov. Romney wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers,” Obama said Monday in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “America now produces twice as much electricity from wind as we did before I took office.”

Obama is painting the wind issue as a job initiative in Iowa, the state with the second-most wind generation capacity in the nation. The report echoes administration and wind-industry claims that ending the PTC would cost 37,000 direct and indirect jobs, while extending it would preserve 75,000 jobs.

Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the PTC. He hammered that message in Colorado last week, and is doing the same on his three-day tour of Iowa, a state that boasts 7,000 wind-energy jobs.

Obama won Iowa’s six electoral votes in 2008, but he and Romney are running a close race in the state, according to RealClearPolitics. The site gives Obama a 1 percentage-point lead over Romney in an average of polling data.

On a Monday call with reporters, a senior administration official said it “certainly wouldn’t be surpris[ing]” if Obama mentioned the report in Iowa.

“As the administration has made clear, time is of the essence,” the official said of Obama's position on the PTC.

Killing the PTC would be akin to “pulling the rug out” from under the wind industry, the administration official said. Though the official acknowledged some in Congress have discussed phasing out the incentive, the administration is focused on getting an extension “first and foremost.”

The Senate Finance Committee passed the PTC in a tax extenders package earlier this month, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week he is "very confident" the full Senate will pass the PTC. The House has yet to seriously debate the incentive.

“From our perspective, we have seen success with this program,” the administration official said. “We have created the jobs and now is not the time to turn back on the industry.”

Romney drew some puzzled reactions from Iowa politicians when he said he wanted to end the PTC. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was so perplexed by the pronouncement that he called Romney aides to “get to the bottom” of the matter.

Romney’s campaign defended the tack as an ideological difference between his economic policies and those of the president. Wind energy should not receive taxpayer assistance if it cannot survive in the marketplace on its own, Romney aides have explained.

That has played into Republican talking points about Obama’s energy vision. They say he has slowed economic recovery and squandered taxpayer money by pushing for green energy instead of traditional energy sources.