Pa. wind power depends on tax credit

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The continued growth of wind energy in Pennsylvania depends on reauthorization of the federal renewable energy tax credit, and proponents of wind power are campaigning to raise public awareness and spur congressional action before the credit expires at the end of the year.

U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, in a speech Friday in Washington, D.C., urged his colleagues to support the production tax credit because it will save and create thousands of jobs.

"Investing in renewable energy is key to creating new jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and promoting economic growth," Mr. Altmire said, noting that the industry supports 4,000 jobs in the state and powers 180,000 homes, including some in the Pittsburgh area.

The federal production tax credit program, instituted in the late 1990s to help the fledgling wind power industry gain a foothold in power production because increased use of renewable energy was a desirable and beneficial public policy goal, has driven wind power development in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the U.S. for more than a decade.

But uncertainty about Congress continuing the program has dried up new wind investment this year in the U.S.

In Pennsylvania, three wind power projects were canceled this summer.

Congressional leaders, who are negotiating a budget deal with the Obama administration to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," have threatened to end the tax credits, which give wind power developers a 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour credit for the renewable energy they produce. That reduces the taxes they pay by $2.63 billion annually, which opponents say is too much revenue to give up.

Last week, at a news conference in Point State Park, Downtown, an industry representative and environmental advocates said renewing the tax credit is important for the environmental and economic health of the nation. They urged Pennsylvanians to contact their congressmen and senators to support reauthorization of the wind tax credits.

Dan Lagiovane, a spokesman for EverPower Wind Holdings, a wind power developer headquartered in Pittsburgh, said wind development provides positive economic benefits to rural communities, schools and farm families, and indecision about the tax credits is costing the state jobs.

"If you believe in a strong economy and a cleaner environment, now is the time to renew the production tax credit and bring certainty back to the wind industry," Mr. Lagiovane said.

Erika Staaf, of PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental organization, said support and growth of wind power has health and environmental benefits, too.

According to a PennEnvironment study, wind power generation in Pennsylvania has environmental air pollution benefits equal to removing 218,000 cars off the road per year.

"Wind power is already replacing the energy sources of the past and creating a cleaner, healthier future for Pennsylvanians," she said. "We can continue on this path of cutting dangerous pollution and saving water if Congress acts now to extend critical wind incentives.

"Our message to Congress is clear: Don't throw wind power off the fiscal cliff. Our clean air, water, and children's future are too important to blow it now."

On Tuesday morning, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future is planning a demonstration outside the Lancaster office of U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, the only member of the Pennsylvania delegation to call for an end to the production tax credit.

Heather Sage, PennFuture vice president, said polls and the election show Americans want a strong economy, better job prospects and a reduction in the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.

"Protecting and building our region's clean energy jobs with smart investments and tax policies will do both," Ms. Sage said. "And failure to pass the Production Tax Credit will kill jobs, right here, right now. But with the PTC and other smart policies, the wind industry can support 500,000 new jobs nationally by 2030. This is a no-brainer; Congress must renew the PTC."

The wind tax credits were allowed to lapse, briefly, in 1999, 2001 and 2003 before Congress agreed to revive and extend them.

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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