Obama Pounces on Romney’s Opposition to Wind Tax Credit

Olga Belogolova

President Obama’s campaign team isn’t wasting any time in taking advantage of Mitt Romney’s controversial stance on extending a production tax credit for wind energy, which has increasingly put him at odds with Republicans and voters in key states such as Iowa and Colorado.

A story that began last week in Iowa, when Romney campaign spokesman Shawn McCoy told the Des Moines Register that as president the Republican “will allow the wind credit to expire,” has now created an opening for the Obama camp in other swing states.

Romney avoided the controversial issue when he spoke at a campaign event in Des Moines on Wednesday. But it could follow him around the country to election battlegrounds where wind energy is produced and consumed -- such as Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio, and Florida -- and where industry parts are manufactured, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Obama weighed in pointedly in Colorado on Thursday. "At a moment when homegrown energy, renewable energy, is creating new jobs in states like Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind-energy producers. Think about what that would mean for a community like Pueblo,” Obama said to a crowd in Pueblo. “Without those tax credits, 37,000 American jobs, including potentially hundreds of jobs right here in Pueblo, would be at risk.”

Pueblo is home to Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer. Earlier this year, the Danish company's CEO, Ditlev Engel, said that if the tax credit is not extended, the company would have to lay off most of its workers in Colorado. The company employs about 1,700 hundred workers in the state. Engel said in February that as many as 1,600 of those jobs could be in jeopardy.

But it’s not just Vestas. 

The wind energy industry supports about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs in Colorado, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Moreover, the state is in the top 10 nationwide for power provided by wind and total installed wind-power capacity.

“Colorado, it's time to stop spending billions in taxpayer subsidies on an oil industry that's already making a lot of profit, and let’s keep investing in new energy sources that have never been more promising," Obama said in Colorado on Thursday. "That's the choice in this election."

As in Iowa, where Romney faced a backlash over the issue earlier this week, concern over his position on the wind production tax credit goes beyond industry advocates and Democrats in Colorado. The stance also puts him at odds with Colorado’s Republican delegation in Congress.

In February, eight out of nine members of the Colorado congressional delegation signed a letter to congressional leadership urging the extension of the tax credit.

“The PTC has been very effective in facilitating new market penetration of wind energy and moving us toward a more diversified and cleaner energy portfolio,” the letter said. “A delay in this extension would do enormous damage to that progress. Unless the wind PTC is renewed in the first quarter of this year, new wind energy development projects and the thousands of jobs associated with those projects are predicted to drop off precipitously after 2012.”

The letter was signed by Republican Reps. Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman, and Scott Tipton, and Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, and Ed Perlmutter, as well as Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet.

The only member of the delegation not signing the letter was Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who argued -- echoing Romney’s spokesman last week -- that the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.

“Renewable energy is a big deal in Colorado,” Udall warned last week. “Last time I checked, Colorado is a swing state. Last time I checked, Governor Romney wants to be president. He needs to win Colorado. This doesn’t go over well with Coloradans.”

It won’t stop there. The wind industry supports some 6,000 to 7,000 jobs in Iowa, 5,000 jobs in Ohio, 2,000-3,000 jobs in Minnesota, and 2,000-3,000 jobs in Florida, among others, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Minnesota was also ranked third in the U.S. in 2010 for percentage of electricity derived from wind and fifth for most installed wind capacity. 

Despite Romney's firm position against extending the production tax credit, his campaign insists he is a big proponent of the wind industry.

“Governor Romney is a strong supporter of wind power and appreciates the industry’s extraordinary technological progress and its important contributions to America’s energy supply,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said on Thursday, arguing that Obama’s policies have actually hurt, and not helped the industry.

“Governor Romney will instead set the industry on a course for success and growth by promoting policies that remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition, and reward technological innovation,” she added.