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Our opinion: On wind energy, Romney blows it

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Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 3:50 am, Mon Aug 13, 2012.

The Mitt Romney campaign needs to walk back its words on wind energy. Beyond making a political blunder in a state that experts identify as being key to the presidential election, the Republican candidate reveals a lack of understanding of the importance of wind energy.

A spokesman for Mitt Romney recently told The Des Moines Register that Romney "will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits."

Among the flaws in this logic is that subsidies give wind an unfair advantage. Over coal? Over natural gas? These industries have the infrastructure built over a century of being consumers' only option. As wind energy attempts to make inroads, the subsidies are merely helping it gain footing. The nation needs to expand its capacity for electricity. For a burgeoning industry like wind to help fill that gap requires a partnership with government.

That's happening in Iowa. Last year, wind provided about 20 percent of the state's electricity. And it has been an economic boon. The industry has created 7,000 jobs in Iowa and about 36,000 nationally.

Romney would stop that momentum by letting the tax credit for wind producers expire at the end of the year. Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, have taken issue with Romney's position. Grassley countered by proposing legislation to extend the credit.

Another flaw in Romney's level-playing-field approach is that it assumes all forms of electricity have equal merit. In fact, there are disadvantages to coal that don't exist with wind. Coal-burning plants emit mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate pollution, all of which can have a negative impact on the environment.

Creating wind energy, meanwhile, is getting cheaper, dropping more than 90 percent since the early 1980s. Technological advances are dramatically changing the industry: A typical wind turbine generates 30 percent more electricity today than it did just a few years ago. Last year, Americans got not quite 3 percent of our energy from wind. But that number could grow substantially in the coming decades. And moving away from burning fossil fuels and toward renewable power sources should be the goal. We shouldn't pay wind subsidies forever, but now is not the time to eliminate them. Now is the time to cultivate wind energy generation.

Romney should take another look at this issue; there's a lot for a presidential candidate to love. It's about jobs. It's about energy costs. It's about sustainability. Don't end the wind energy tax credit too soon.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.

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