WASHINGTON - Providing certainty for tax credits that boost the wind-energy industry has proved anything but smooth sailing in Congress, but Colorado's two senators are using their weight to get the tax credits extended.
The Senate Finance Committee has approved a bill that includes a two-year extension for various tax credits that expired at the end of 2013. One of the bill's provisions is a tax credit for companies producing wind energy, an industry supporting between 4,000 to 5,000 jobs in Colorado, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
The bill originally failed to include the wind-tax credit, so Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, proposed an amendment to add it.
"The wind (tax credit) cuts right to the core of whether and how we want to compete in the global and changing economy," Bennet said in a news release. "It has triggered tremendous economic growth in Colorado and all across the country, and we've seen the kind of economic damage that comes with allowing it to expire prematurely."
Colorado generates the sixth-highest percentage of power from wind of any state, according to the American Wind Energy Association. There are 19 manufacturing facilities in the state, most in the northwest. The Colorado Geological Survey reports all sources of renewable energy provided 8 percent of Colorado's electricity in 2009.
In Durango, La Plata Electric Association purchases electricity from Tri-State Generation and Transmission. About 23 percent of this comes from renewable sources, with about 4 percent produced from wind farms, according to Lee Boughey, senior manager for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Tri-State.
Tri-State plans to double its wind production by 2016. According to Boughey, all wind projects benefit from tax incentives that help lower the cost for wind developers as well as consumers. He said the wind-production tax credit is estimated to reduce the cost of wind power in the current market in Colorado by a half to two-thirds.
Dutch wind-giant Vestas has made Colorado its national wind-energy hub. It has plants in Windsor, Brighton and Pueblo, and recently announced plans to add hundreds of more jobs this year, according to The Denver Post. However, when the wind-tax credit was not extended promptly in 2012, the market collapsed, and Vestas was forced to lay off workers. The company did not respond for requests for comment in time for publication.
While getting anything done in Congress is a slog, the tax credit for wind-generated electricity has broad backing.
Twenty-six senators, including Bennet and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have signed a letter supporting extension of the wind-tax credit. A similar letter was sent by 118 U.S. representatives.
"Like all businesses, the wind industry seeks certainty and predictability so that long-term project decisions and investments can be made," the senators wrote. "Without that stability, we once again risk losing many of the jobs, infrastructure and investment that the wind industry has created."
Bennet recently was named chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure - giving him jurisdiction over energy taxation and infrastructure investment issues.
In a statement after his appointment, he seemed hopeful for a revised tax code, which was hoped for this year but has failed to materialize.
"As long as we insist on having an outdated tax code, we are going to have a hard time certifying that we have a set of policies and strategies that are relevant to the 21st-century economy," Bennet said. "This is not a debate of left versus right, but past versus future innovation."
Katie Fiegenbaum is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Cortez Journal. firstname.lastname@example.org.