Finance votes to restore wind tax credit

The Senate Finance Committee approved Thursday a package of tax break extensions that restores the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy, which expired in 2013.

The committee voted by voice vote to send the bill to the full Senate. It would extend the PTC for two years, along with numerous provisions that incentivize alternative fuels and energy efficiency for vehicles and homes.

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Senators who support the wind industry thanked Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for including the wind credit in the bill that the committee marked up Thursday after excluding it from the draft unveiled Tuesday.

“This is vitally important to Colorado,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who sponsored an amendment to include the credit. “We’ve got upwards of 5,000 jobs in our state” from the wind industry, he said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Congress has already harmed the wind industry by allowing the PTC to expire last year and that the harm would continue if it is not extended.

“The uncertainty it creates for the renewable industry has slowed growth in this sector,” Grassley said. “This serves only to hamper the strides made towards a viable, self-sustainable renewable energy and fuels sector.”

The panel rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have stripped the bill of all provisions that incentivize alternative energy, including the PTC and credits for biofuel, electric vehicles, alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure and fuel cell technology.

“I don’t think we should force taxpayers to subsidize inefficient, uncompetitive forms of energy,” Toomey said. “We are simply picking winners and losers.”

Toomey said that he did not oppose alternative fuels, but he thinks "they ought to compete on a level playing field.”

Grassley defended the credits, saying that it would be fair to give alternative energy sources credits similar to the ones that traditional energy receives.

“The 100-year-old oil and gas industry continues to benefit from tax preferences that benefit only their industry,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) agreed with Grassley: “I would argue that Congress has picked a winner in the oil industry, and they have won.”

A number of energy-related amendments were either withdrawn or blocked by Wyden because they were not related to a bill extending expired tax provisions.

Those amendments would have allowed faster tax credits for solar energy and offshore wind energy infrastructure while they are being built, changing the fuel tax structure for liquefied natural gas and phasing the wind credit out over five years.