Good News for Planet: Wind Power tax Credits Renewed in ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Deal

While it is important that the Bush tax giveaway to the wealthy begin to be reversed if the US budget is ever to recover its health, the bigger significance of the budget deal passed yesterday by both houses of Congress is that the wind power tax break was restored for 2013.

Actually, even this extension is too little, since the industry needs more surety of longer term arrangements if it is to thrive. But, well, the renewal is a good thing, and now needs to be extended.


The United States has the highest per capita carbon emissions of any large, industrialized country in the world, with each American producing roughly two tons of the deadly greenhouse gas annually. In turn, the some 5 billion tons of carbon emitted by the US annually is causing rapid global warming and climate change, including the prospect of rising seas. Although US emissions have fallen since 1990, it is largely because of the economic slowdown and the resort to fracked natural gas. Gas fracturing may be releasing dangerous amounts of methane, another greenhouse gas). Natural gas itself is replacing dirtier coal. (Fracturing gas out of the shale But each of us in the US is still a carbon hog.

The US is not moving nearly quickly enough to cut its emissions. Only about 6 percent of US electricity comes from non-hydro renewables. Here in the Midwest, the regional average for electricity generated by coal– the worst of the hydrocarbon fuels — is 65%. That statistic, in 2013, is a crime akin to killing one’s mother. The storm surge that hit New York this fall was a small indication of what nature has in store for us if we go on this destructive path.

The Congressional foot dragging on renewing the wind tax credit slowed the rate of turbine installations in 2011 over 2010, and some 30,000 workers in the wind industry faced being laid off if the tax break was abolished. This outcome was plotted out by the Koch brothers (Big Carbon billionaires who like to play at politics) and other oil, gas and coal interests.

Among all the states, Texas, California, Iowa, Oregon and Illinois had the most riding on the program, since they are the leaders with regard to how many wind turbines they have installed. Iowa gets 20% of its electricity from wind turbines now, and the Iowa-based MidAmerican utility has wind as 30% of its energy mix (it also has a big natural gas component; gas burns more cleanly than coal).

On Christmas Day, Texas reached a new record, when at one point about a quarter of its electricity was coming from wind turbines— over 8 gigawatts!

Not every state has a lot of potential wind power. Georgia, for instance, is not well placed to profit from this form of power given current technology. My own state, Michigan, is not that well endowed, either. But the US as a whole has enormous amounts of potential wind power. Many states that could generate a fifth of their electricity needs with free fuel are not bothering to do so.

Of course, the Federal government is not the only driver of the move to renewables. The far-sighted governor of Oregon is mandating new electricity be from renewables and is streamlining the wind turbine permit process. (Permitting by state and local government is among the major obstacles to installing solar panels and wind turbines).

Still, the federal impact can be great, since it has an effect across states. Wind companies say that the tax break is the difference between being profitable in today’s market and not quite making it. Wind is at grid parity (costs the same per kilowatt hour) with hydrocarbons in some parts of the country, however, and within just a few years both wind and solar will be so cheap that it will be crazy to burn coal or even gas.

That day will come sooner if our elected representatives don’t sabotage progress, which they almost did on Tuesday.

We need the wind tax credit extended until 2020, after which it just won’t be needed. But note that we have been subsidizing the oil companies with billions a year for decades and no one even seems to complain about that.

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18 Responses

  1. Although wind turbines on the land in Michigan do not look promosing, couldn’t Michigan set-up a bunch of turbines off its coasts in the middle of the lakes, generating a good deal of electricity that way?

    • Yes, the US is the twelfth highest per capita carbon dumper, but the populations of 1 through 11 are tiny in comparison to the US – Australia, the largest of the 11, has about one fifteenth the population of the US.

      In our continuous search for bogeymen, the media prefers the nation-state comparisons instead of per capita comparisons. With this standard we can always say “What about China and India?” when the carbon finger is pointed at us. This argument won’t bare the light of day when per capita numbers are used.

      China is number 78 on the list with a per capita figure that is about one third of ours. India is number 145 on the list with a per capita figure of about one tenth of ours.

      The MIC and the neocons like the nation-state comparison because it implies a sense of symmetry between us an them – thus making them rivals to be dealt with (marines in Australia, love, kisses (bases) for Myanmar).

      • Since Professor Cole himself seems attached to this standard, perhaps attributing its usage to the imperialist dreams of the neoconservatives misses the mark.

        With this standard we can always say “What about China and India?” when the carbon finger is pointed at us. This argument won’t bare the light of day when per capita numbers are used.

        For the time being. Both China and India are seeing huge increases in their per-capita carbon emissions, while ours keep falling at the fastest rate of any country in the world.

        While we’re talking about investment: China and India need to stop investing in coal. They are both ramping up coal-fired energy production at a prodigious rate, and will swamp even the most optimistic reductions in American emissions if they don’t start bending the curve, like, yesterday.

  2. While it is true that since 1990 the Co2 emission has decreased due to recession since 2007, the other boig part is that the USa has exported almost all the dirty manufacturing industries to offshore, thus eliminating some emission. Further the use of Oil has decresed by 2 million barrels per day since the recession strted.

    • The recession ended over three years ago, but the reductions continue.

      There was some fear that the American reductions were merely the result of the recession when, in 2010, there was a jump in emissions levels, but they dropped dramatically in 2011 and fell again in 2012, even as growth rates turned positive, indicating that there was a structural change happening, and not just a slowdown.

      • The structural change is that fracking made natural gas comparatively inexpensive and since it is more EPA compliant than coal, power companies are switching from dirty coal to somewhat cleaner gas.

        However, fracking releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, so the impact on global warming of the US reduction from coal may not be as great as it seems.

        The economy still is struggling and hasn’t swung into high gear, and it is an open question what will happen when it does.

        In any case, 5 billion metric tons of carbon a year from the US, the reduced amount, will still kill the planet dead. So it is like saying that a mass killer has started showing up at his killing fields with 5 semi-automatic weapons instead of 6.

        • However, fracking releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, so the impact on global warming of the US reduction from coal may not be as great as it seems.

          I’ve seen too many global warming deniers respond to real numbers with a reference to some factor that they assume nobody has looked at – sunspots, cyclical changes – to find arguments like this compelling. With no quantification, just the observation that fracking can, sometimes, release some unspecified amount of carbon, it’s difficult to take this seriously as a rebuttal to the actual, documented, world-leading reduction in GHG that the replacement of coal by gas has accomplished.

          The economy still is struggling and hasn’t swung into high gear, and it is an open question what will happen when it does.

          It isn’t, really. As the economy has spent the last two years in slow-to-moderate growth mode, we haven’t seen the reductions reverse, or even level off. We’ve seen them continue. This question seems to be quite a bit less open than the claim that methane releases undo the carbon gains of natural gas.

    • Joe: Google the Cornell University study on trapped methane released into the air — through newly formed cracks leading to the surface, NOT to the well — from shale fracking.

      When you add the evidence up, fracking has not helped at all with the emissions problem, and has made things marginally worse. The fact that it’s poisoning water supplies is the real issue, though.

      The shutdown of the oldest, least efficient coal power plants — driven by mercury regulations — has made a *large* contribution to emissions reductions in the US. The fracking proponents are taking credit for that, but actually it was caused by the mercury regulations; it would have happened with or without fracking.

  3. For all the folks who want to “feel good about the US” to the point of finding good news in a change in the rate of CO2 emissions and substitution behavior when it comes to what carbonaceous combustible undergirds our planet-killing combusto-consumption lifestyle:

    Now isn’t that special.

    Take a brief step back in time to just before, the DAY before, that 9/11 thing, and read the words of one Donald Rumsfeld, bitsh-slapping his Pentagon cronies for “mislaying’ $2.3 trillion over a few years: link to Gee, first of all, how much “security” did the rest of us get for all that wealth and debt? Did we win any wars? And how much better off would the most of us be if the shites who infest the Pentagram, about 50-50 careerists and parasitic contractors, were deprived of free access to the entire cornucopia (now actually almost emptied) that was the resource base of the US of A?

    And some tell us that a “green” military, whichever one is first to get to that point, mostly freed from oil-sucking, will dominate the planet. Is that the game? Jesus Lord, I would hope not…

    • “And some tell us that a “green” military, whichever one is first to get to that point, mostly freed from oil-sucking, will dominate the planet.”

      I think that’s me who’s saying that. I have been a student of history, and the unfortunate fact is that militaries matter. A lot. And have for about 5000 years.

      ” Is that the game? Jesus Lord, I would hope not…”

      *shrug* I’m a realist. I would like it if the “green” military were a “UN peacekeeper / global police” military, rather than a “loot and conquer” military. And that’s perfectly likely if we do things right. If on the other hand we do things wrong, it could be run by the worst people ever.

  4. As a fan of this blog and Mr. Cole, I must respectfully disagree with the assessment of Michigan’s wind potential.

    According to a National Renewable Energy Lab resource assessment, Michigan’s wind resource could provide 160 percent of its current electricity needs. See: link to

  5. All of this talk is about giant turbines and commercial wind farms. Riverside county and San Diego county have permitting process that has restricted the use of residential wind turbines. If you have the capital you can build a large installation in either of these two counties. If you compare the residential wind production added in the last 4 years in San Bernardino County with these other two counties you see a nine to one ratio in added wind turbine infrastructure. San Bernardino County has been proactive in residential wind energy.

    • From what I’ve read, residential wind usually has a very poor efficiency. (Residential *solar* on the other hand is excellent.)

  6. New gas burning power plants (gas burning diesel, steam turbine Combination) are over 80 percent efficient and clean, can wind up quickly to pick up the slake or down when supplies from wind sun are plentiful. Small local plants are best and the only way wind or sun can be practically put to use.
    If you really want to contribute personally, reduce or stop your intake of meat and collectively cut methane output by half and buy the planet and yourself another 10 or 20 years.

    • Actually, future battery technology (currently in design and development) is the way to use wind or sun overnight.

      I know the people designing it.

  7. On the flip side the fiscal deal cut sustainable argiculture funding significantly…

    Research programs that were cut include:

    Organic Agriculture Research and Extension ($20 million)
    Specialty Crop Research Initiative ($50 million)
    Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program ($19 million)

    Outreach programs that were cut include:

    Farmers Market Promotion Program ($10 million)
    National Organic Certification Cost Share ($5 million)
    Organic Data Initiative ($1 million)
    Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers ($15 million)

    link to

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