Romney, Obama Divided On Wind Energy Tax Credit
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President Obama heads back to Iowa tomorrow. The key battleground state has benefitted from his wind energy tax credit. But the credit is set to expire at the end of this year. And the president's opponent, Mitt Romney, opposes renewing it.
As Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio reports, that has put Iowa's top Republicans at odds with their presidential nominee.
(SOUNDBITE OF A WIND TURBINE)
CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: You'd think a wind turbine factory would be noisier, but no. One worker operates a crane with a remote. He's lowering the casing around a massive generator. Three other employees guide him.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Lower.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Lower.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Lower.
MASTERS: The company, ACCIONA, is based in Spain. Joe Baker is the CEO of its North America wind power division here in West Branch, Iowa.
JOE BAKER: Right now, you don't know what the future is. I can't plan.
MASTERS: That's because Baker doesn't know if the wind energy production tax credit will even be around next year because of the presidential race. This industry has become pretty important to Iowa's economy. The Iowa Wind Energy Association says the state was first to produce 20 percent of its energy from wind. Seven thousand jobs here are tied to the manufacturing of these wind turbines, and many of those jobs would be lost if the tax credit expires, says the Iowa Wind Energy Association, and it's a domino effect from there. Many other construction jobs tied to the industry would also go away.
MITT ROMNEY: I'm going to take advantage of our energy resources, our coal, our gas, our oil, our wind, our solar, nuclear. We're going to take advantage of the energy that we have here and build that pipeline from Canada too.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
MASTERS: That's Governor Mitt Romney at a campaign stop here in Iowa last week. Wind is in there, but it's part of a long list. Governor Romney says he'll let the tax credit expire if elected president. He wants to remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition. The idea is for wind energy to fail or thrive on its own without tax dollars. But Iowa's top Republicans, from Senator Chuck Grassley to Governor Terry Branstad, want Romney to reconsider and give the tax credit a little more time. Here's Republican Tom Latham. He's fighting a tough campaign against a Democrat, and he also sees things a bit different than Romney.
REPRESENTATIVE TOM LATHAM: If we're ever going to balance the budget, obviously, we're going to have to look at everything.
MASTERS: But not wind energy; at least not yet, say Latham and the other Republicans. Harold Prior, with the Iowa Wind Energy Association, says, right now, the market uncertainty has spurred some companies to increase production ahead of the expiration date of the tax credit.
HAROLD PRIOR: Right now, it's a boom time for them because they've got all kinds of orders, as, you know, companies are trying to get these turbines in the ground, and they've already planned wind farm developments across the nation, they're trying to get them in the ground and get them commissioned before the end of this year.
MASTERS: Prior points out other wind energy companies are shedding jobs because of that market uncertainty. That's a point made by the Obama campaign in this ad running in the state.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Romney would jeopardize thousands of jobs and knock the wind out of Iowa's economy.
MASTERS: So the wind energy industry and politicians in Iowa on both sides of the aisle want what they say is just a few more years to make the industry viable. That tax credit costs $1.36 billion a year. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.