Op-Ed: Wind tax credit shows Romney/Obama contrasts

Published in the Des Moines Register, August 6, 2012

Mitt Romney's declared hostility to the wind energy tax credit is just one further sign of the clear choice facing voters in November: renew the mandate of a president who has set a new standard for diversifying our energy portfolio, or opt for a remake of the shopworn "Drill Baby, Drill" fixation on fossil fuels.

President Obama is convinced that America needs to take strong steps to reduce our global warming emissions. His administration has introduced controls on carbon dioxide from new coal-fired power plants, requiring plant operators to adopt advanced pollution-control technology or stop building new plants altogether. He has also championed a range of policies that have kept renewable energy moving forward during tough economic times.

Candidate Romney questions whether human beings are causing climate change. He has called on Congress to strip the U.S Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon dioxide from coal plants and other sources, and he derides President Obama for living in "an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy."

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's just-released Renewable Electricity Futures Study should top Romney's summer reading list. This report projects that, by 2050, fully 80 percent of America's electricity could be fueled by renewable energy. More specifically, the report foresees that wind turbines and solar photovoltaic arrays could supply nearly 50 percent of our total power demands by mid-century, using proven technology that is now commercially available. Already five states get more than ten percent of their power from wind, and our most power-hungry state, Texas, gets seven percent of its electricity from wind.

Are these mere figments of President Obama's imagination?

To be sure, oil and natural gas have a major place in the president's "all of the above" energy policy. As he highlighted in his State of the Union address in January, American reliance on foreign oil is lower than it has been in 16 years. From a peak of 60 percent during the Bush era, our imports have dropped to about 45 percent today. To further reduce this still-staggering dependence on unstable foreign supplies, the president is opening up vast new areas for oil drilling - to the understandable distress of many in the environmental community.

Where Obama and Romney differ is not in their push to tap new domestic oil and gas reserves, but in their broader vision for America's energy policy. The president recognizes our need, as a nation, to move toward reliance on clean, renewable fuel sources that will carry us far beyond a few more decades of fossil fuel dependence. He is also attuned to America's vulnerability in a hotly competitive global marketplace. That's why his administration has imposed new tariffs on heavily subsidized Chinese solar panel producers and wind tower manufacturers from China, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Here on U.S. soil, President Obama acknowledges the market-distorting subsidies that we have poured into our own energy industries. In March, he tried to knock out $4 billion per year in oil subsidies, asserting that the industry doesn't need these costly measures to thrive. Congress, beholden to an all-powerful oil lobby, blocked him. Candidate Romney thinks this particular form of government largesse is just fine, yet he is intent on killing off the 2.2 cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit that is essential to wind power producers as they struggle to compete with artificially cheap fossil fuels.

Anticipating the tax credit's lapse at the end of 2012, developers are already freezing their plans for new wind farms, and turbine producers have begun laying off workers. If the tax credit dies, analysts predict that 37,000 wind industry jobs will be lost over the coming year. Many of those left unemployed will be in Iowa.

For Americans who are committed to breaking fossil fuels' stranglehold on our economy, we need a president who will advance policies that will effectively integrate renewable energy into our nation's power supply.