The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 8, 2012

Groups gather against tax credit, area wind farms

Dave Sutor
dsutor@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — An eclectic collection of organizations opposes the wind production tax credit.

Some, such as FreedomWorks and the National Taxpayers Union, disagree with the policy for mostly financial reasons, as it provides a 2.2-cent tax deduction for every kilowatt-hour of energy produced by wind companies. Others object mainly to how the credit helps grow an industry they feel destroys nature’s beauty by placing windmills across the landscape.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative think-tank with ties to David and Charles Koch, whose conglomerate holds large interests in oil and gas.

They brought together an 88-member coalition to call upon the U.S. Congress to let the wind tax credit expire on Dec. 31, as scheduled. Their joint letter stated, “We’re still providing a $5 billion special tax break each year for an industry that supplies just over 2 percent of our power.”

“This is a really diverse group of organizations,” said Christine Harbin, a federal policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity. “The single thing they have in common is being against subsidizing wind energy.”

Americans for Prosperity feels tax credits distort markets, and, in the case of wind, prop up an industry that does not meet energy needs during peak times of demand in the summer. AFP objects to negative pricing, which enables some wind farms to pay grid operators to buy their surplus supply of power thanks to support from the production-based credit. The organization also dislikes the selective nature of the tax.

“This is the same type of picking winners and losers that has dominated the tax code for too long. … When you pick wind energy as a supposed winner that takes a lot of money out of the private sector,” said Harbin.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey wants to let the tax credit fade away.

“While Sen. Toomey supports the production and use of alternative energy, he does not feel it necessary to be funded by tax credits and incentives,” said Rebecca Neal, press secretary for the Republican lawmaker. “He supports comprehensive tax reforms that would largely rid our tax code of complex credits and loopholes while lowering rates across the board for every American.”

Along with tax credit fights, the wind industry often faces opposition from conservationists.

Locally, a group called Save the Mountain contested a plan by Gamesa, a wind industry company based in Spain, to put windmills on Shaffer Mountain in Somerset County, a migrating path for hawks, bats and eagles. The group also did not want construction to destroy the hill’s pristine wilderness or high-quality trout streams.

The wind farm was scheduled to be online by 2013.

But because of the backlash, along with uncertainty about the tax credit’s future and environmental concerns, Gamesa scrapped the plan earlier this year.

“We have beaten them,” said Ogle Township landowner Joseph J. Cominsky, a founder of Save the Mountain. “We have the people in place and we still keep them in place in case somebody else wants to come into this place and develop Shaffer Mountain.”

Save Our Allegheny Ridges also has fought against windmills being installed locally, citing the preservation of scenic wilderness. The nonprofit organization opposed development of the Shaffer project, along with other farms in Bedford and Clearfield counties that recently were canceled.

“We felt very happy about that,” said Laura Jackson, SOAR president.

Jackson supports development of miniature underground nuclear power plants and rooftop solar panels as ways to possibly address the nation’s energy needs. She rejects critics who say her opposition to wind is nothing more than a not-in-my-backyard complaint.

“I don’t really buy that as a criticism because you have to care about something. If (people) aren’t going to protect their land then shame on them. ... The NIMBY argument doesn’t bother me at all,” she said.

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