Friday, May 7, 2010

Senate Wind Energy Legislation Needs a Push

In the past two months, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced two pieces of legislation designed to provide additional impetus for the further growth of the wind power industry. Unfortunately, I have not seen that either of these bills has received much attention - undoubtedly because of the larger goal of passing comprehensive climate change legislation.

I do think that both pieces of legislation deserve a bit of recognition, as do the senators who have introduced them. Through their efforts, there has been a continuing push to further stimulate an industry that is seen by most as one of the best alternatives to coal-fired electric generation (development and startup costs notwithstanding). Let me take a moment to summarize each bill.

S. 3062, which hasn't been given a formal title, was introduced on March 3, 2010 by Senators Tom Carper (Democrat of Delaware), Sherrod Brown (Democrat of Ohio), and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (Republicans of Maine). This short, three-page bill would amend the 1986 Internal Revenue Code to extend tax credits for electricity generated by offshore wind facilities to January 1, 2020. The bill, which has since picked up two additional cosponsors - Kay Hagen (Democrat of North Carolina) and Bob Menendez (Democrat of New Jersey) - was referred to the Senate Finance Committee on March 3 and is still awaiting action.

S. 3226, which is also suffering from the lack of an official title, was introduced on April 19, 2010 by the original four sponsors above along with Senator Ted Kaufman (Democrat of Delaware) and totals 17 pages. It would, in shore, require the Secretary of Energy to take action to "stimulate the emergence of an offshore wind power industry in the United States." The brief findings used as the introduction to the bill provide the root cause for the introduction of this bill: (1) The lack of installed offshore wind power projects; (2) The technical feasibility of high penetrations of wind generation through infrastructure expansion; and (3) The identified need (in the Department of Energy's publication, 20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030) to meet this goal by making technological advances to enable improvement in performance and a reduction in cost. As of today, the bill is pending in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Both of these bills appear on the surface to provide great benefits to the wind industry. Both bills, regretfully, are stuck in committee. Is it possible they could move this year? Certainly, but I find it highly unlikely. With the legislative challenges still remaining before Congress - appropriations bills, climate change legislation, immigration reform, further jobs bills - it would be an extremely heavy lift, given the time remaining on the legislative calendar.

I would think a more realistic approach would be to roll either or both of these bills into the soon-to-be-released Kerry-Graham (maybe?) - Lieberman bill in whatever section addresses alternative energy. The goals of both are worthy of merit, and supporters of wind energy should certainly take an opportunity to consider each for themselves and weigh in with their own senators to reqeust additional cosponsors and support - and, perhaps, a push across the finish line.

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