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December 15, 2012

Tax credit debate sucking the wind out of wind industry

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The wind industry's turbines are stalling over doubts about the future of a 20-year-old tax credit, and the uncertainty is already costing jobs and cancelling projects.

A Gamesa turbine plant near here, in Cambria Township, has laid off more than 160 workers so far this year because of slacking demand for windmill parts. Iberdrola Renewables recently canceled a 24-turbine wind farm planned for mountains south of here, near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.

Wind developers aren't planning new projects, said David Rosenberg, Gamesa's vice president of marketing and communications, which means the supply chain is slowing and thousands of people are out of work. The wind industry employs about 75,000 people in the United States, and most of its projects are on 12- to 18-month schedules

Clouding their future is uncertainty surrounding the federal tax credit, which expires at the end of the year. Wind energy producers get a 2.2-cent credit for every kilowatt hour they put into the power grid. The credit enables some to cut as much as one-third of their operating costs, which supporters say inspires more wind development.

"It’s very important to get the tax credit. It's very important for the industry," said Dan Lagiovane, a communications manager for EverPower, a Pittsburgh company that operates four wind farms, including two in Pennsylvania, and is building two others in the state.

If renewed by Congress, the credit will cost $1.36 billion per year between now and 2015, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. The American Wind Energy Association says the credit, in turn, leverages $15.5 billion in private investment each year.

The tax credit's survival isn't certain, despite President Obama's support for it during the fall campaign. Obama's negotiations with Republican House Speaker John Boehner over the budget deficit have cast doubt over most tax credits and loopholes.

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