Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Renewable energy is getting so cheap that it doesn’t need subsidies anymore.
Yes, well. Renewables live or die by subsidies, in fact. That was proved yet again this week, when Democrats tried (unsuccessfully) to stuff a panoply of Green New Deal measures into the corona-crisis relief bill — including extensions of the tax credits that have been driving the growth of solar and wind energy.
That Congressional Democrats would push so hard for solar and wind subsidies at such a critical time for the US economy is particularly galling for two reasons. First, the wind industry already stands to collect some $33.75 billion in subsidies between now and 2029. Second, wind-energy development in some of the most-heavily Democratic states in the country — Hawaii, California, New York and Vermont — has been effectively stopped due to local opposition.
To be sure, the Washington favor factory never sleeps. But the American Wind Energy Association and its lobbyists deserve an Olympic gold medal for their utter lack of shame.
For years, the wind industry has been saying that it doesn’t need subsidies to compete against traditional forms of energy. On its Web site, AWEA says that wind-energy growth is “expected to remain strong” when the production tax credit goes away. In 2015, the wind industry agreed to a multiyear phase-out of the subsidy.
But at the end of last year, it garnered a one-year extension of the subsidy. And on March 20, AWEA sent a notice to its members urging them to participate in a “grasstops outreach campaign” targeting key senators for yet another extension, because COVID-19 is “creating schedule problems.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, has said: “As the father of the first wind-energy tax credit in 1992, I can say that the tax credit was never meant to be permanent.” Permanent or not, wind subsidies now dwarf every other energy-related tax treatment, and by 2029, according to Lisa Linowes, the executive director of the WindAction Group, cumulative subsidies given to the wind industry will total a staggering $60 billion.
The Democrats’ willingness to give yet more tax money to the wind industry is even more remarkable when considering what is happening on the ground. From Vermont to Hawaii, rural residents are rejecting wind projects due to concerns about property values, noise and viewsheds.
Bernie Sanders claims the United States must convert its entire economy to renewable energy. But his own constituents, Vermonters, loathe wind energy. On March 24, the Vermont Public Utilities Commission rejected the last active application for a major wind project in the state.
In New York, resistance to wind energy is so widespread that Gov. Cuomo included a measure in the state budget proposal that, if passed, will strip local communities of their ability to stop wind and solar-energy projects from being built in their jurisdictions.
California has mandated that 60 percent of its electricity be derived from renewables by 2030. But it’s nearly impossible to build new wind capacity in Nancy Pelosi’s home state. Since 2013, the state has added fewer than 200 megawatts of new wind capacity. The latest rejection occurred in December, when Humboldt County declined a proposed wind project that would have put 47 giant turbines in the county.
In Hawaii, 200 people were arrested last fall on the island of Oahu while protesting the construction of eight wind turbines near the village of Kahuku. The fight over that project is now headed to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
In short, top Democrats are pushing for big increases in wind-energy subsidies just when rural residents in their home states are ardently opposing Big Wind. Giving the wind industry billions more in subsidies will only fuel those land-use conflicts.
This economic-rescue bill will likely not include Big Wind pork. But given the wind industry’s shamelessness, the nonsense is certain to return. Indeed, Politico is reporting that subsidies for solar and wind “could be pushed to a later corporate rescue package.”
Robert Bryce’s sixth book, “A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations,” was published March 10 by PublicAffairs.
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