Fact Check

Wind power moves U.S. energy forward

Wind power has become an important part of America's electricity mix.
Wind power moves U.S. energy forward
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This post originally appeared on Morning Consult.

Wind power is an important part of America’s electricity mix that keeps money in the pockets of families and businesses, despite misleading claims from anti-renewable energy special interest groups.

Today, there’s enough wind power in the U.S. for 20 million American homes, and wind is on track to quadruple in size by 2030 to supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity. This strong growth has been driven in part by the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a market-driven solution that has helped rapidly scale up wind power.

The PTC has played an important role in creating 88,000 well-paying American jobs; supporting over 500 factories in 43 states; attracting $128 billion into the U.S. economy over the last decade; and allowing 12 states to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity with wind, led by Iowa at more than 31 percent.

This is a successful policy that inspired American innovation and improved domestic manufacturing, driving wind’s costs down 66 percent in just six years. Because wind is now the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity in many parts of the country, more wind came online than any other source of new electricity in 2015.

Given this success, it’s no surprise that the anti-renewable energy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) would falsely attack the PTC and guidance issued by the IRS clarifying eligibility rules.

It was Congress, not the IRS, who changed the eligibility threshold for the PTC from when a project is placed in service to when a project starts construction.  This was done in Section 407 of the American Taxpayer Relief Act, signed into law on January 1, 2013.  The Senate Finance Committee explained the rationale for this change by saying it was needed to increase business certainty, something ostensibly pro-business voices like AFP normally support.
Furthermore, Congress did not define what it meant in Section 407 when it wrote eligible projects are those “the construction of which begins before January 1, 2014.”  Therefore, consistent with Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the IRS had to define it in order to faithfully execute the law (after all, the IRS can’t administer and enforce the tax code, and taxpayers can’t comply, if key terms remain undefined).

In defining what it means to start construction, the IRS relied on past precedent for both options it established to qualify – a physical work standard or a safe harbor based on a percent of project costs paid or incurred by a certain date.

So, not only did Congress authorize the IRS to define what it means to start construction, but how the IRS did so has ample precedent from other sections of the tax code and their implementation of regulations impacting other business sectors.

AFP also paints an incomplete picture by focusing on the PTC. In reality, all forms of American energy receive incentives. Conventional fuels have received $500 billion and counting over the last 100 years, dwarfing what renewables have gotten. And renewables are the only major U.S. energy source on schedule to have their incentives phased out—conventional fuels have theirs permanently written into the tax code.

With respect to AFP’s misleading wildlife claims, through a legacy of care the U.S. wind industry works hard to minimize its footprint. As the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution, wind directly combats what scientists agree is the largest threat to wildlife: climate change.

As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe has noted, the overwhelming majority of human-caused eagle fatalities result from intentional poisonings and shootings. Furthermore, he explained, “Proposed changes to our Eagle Conservation and Management Program do not give wind energy companies — or any other industry, organization or individual — license to kill thousands of eagles each year without consequence… the media’s singular focus on wind turbines is a gross distortion of the truth.”

Modern wind farms are responsible for less than five percent of human-caused golden eagle fatalities, and only a few bald eagles in the entire history of the industry. Wind turbine impacts on birds are also modest, with vastly larger impacts on overall bird populations coming from cars, buildings, pesticides and cell towers.  Further, the U.S. wind industry does more than any other industry to avoid, minimize and mitigate the impacts we do have.

The truth about wind power is much brighter than AFP projects. Costs are declining, good jobs are growing, American consumers are saving money, and we’re creating a more energy independent tomorrow. That’s a future we can all get behind.

Fact Check

Tom Vinson is the Vice President, Federal Regulatory Affairs at the American Wind Energy Association. He joined AWEA in November 2007. Tom leads the AWEA team working on key areas, including transmission, siting (wildlife, public lands, radar/airspace etc.), offshore wind, worker health and safety, and industry standards development. Prior to joining AWEA, Tom spent more than 10 years working for Members of Congress in both the House and Senate.

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