Losing the race to sound conclusions on the Production Tax Credit

Michael Giberson

When I worked on public policy issues in Washington, DC, I used to read the National Journal. It tended a bit toward Washington-establishment thinking, but at least it gave evidence of thinking. Now much farther from the daily fray, I only occasionally come across the National Journal, and usually just the so-called Energy Experts Blog. I’m less impressed with the National Journal than I used to be.

Recently they’ve posted a bundle of energy “experts” on the production tax credit. I mentioned the other day that one of the “experts” thought the PTC paid $2,200 per megawatt (actually it pays $22 per megawatthour). I just noticed another “expert” reporting that the PTC is set to expire at the end of 2013 (oops, off by 365 days). I guess we’re getting raw, unvarnished expertise on the Energy Experts Blog, nothing subjected to the indignities of editorial review.

But worse than these little slip ups is the general lack of depth to many of the arguments. For “Ms. 2013,” who works for the Pew Clean Energy Program, whether or not we continue the Production Tax Credit is apparently about being at the top of the world in building “clean energy.”

Really? This is your policy criteria? Whether we can wear the “#1 Clean Energy Nation” T-shirts and wave the big “We’re #1” green energy foam fingers? I thought these kinds of public policy decisions should be informed by considerations of costs and benefits, not a bunch of cheesy cheerleading routines.

Quoted, so you can see what I’m talking about:

In 2011, for the first time in several years, the United States led the world by investing more than $48 billion in clean energy. The clean energy sector represents one of the fastest-growing industries globally, with investment increasing more than 600 percent between 2004 and 2011 (excluding research and development).

We’re in danger of losing our place at the top, however. To maintain our lead amid fierce international competition and to continue to attract private capital, there must be policy certainty. While other nations have national policies to encourage the adoption of clean energy, we rely on a patchwork of state policies and cyclical federal tax incentives, one of the most important of which is to end in a year.

The production tax credit (PTC) is an effective tool to keep electricity prices low and encourage the development of proven clean energy projects. While not large–about 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour–it gives American businesses the certainty they need to continue to invest, build, and deploy. But it’s set to expire at the end of 2013. Uncertainty about whether Congress will act to extend the PTC has already resulted in a sharp drop in investments in wind energy production, threatening the livelihoods of the more than 78,000 people nationwide who are in wind-supported jobs.

When Congress has allowed the PTC to expire in the past, wind installations declined by 73 to 93 percent.

“Wind-supported jobs”? Funny phrase, given the context. Apparently they are 73 to 93 percent tax-break supported jobs. The wind-supported jobs are the ones that would be left in the business after the tax break goes away.

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One thought on “Losing the race to sound conclusions on the Production Tax Credit

  1. Mike, said…

    When Congress has allowed the PTC to expire in the past, wind installations declined by 73 to 93 percent.

    “Wind-supported jobs”? Funny phrase, given the context. Apparently they are 73 to 93 percent tax-break supported jobs. The wind-supported jobs are the ones that would be left in the business after the tax break goes away.

    While your point is valid, you need to re-check your economic thinking. Just because 73-93% of jobs disappear when a tax break goes away does not mean that 73-93% of the cash flow supporting those jobs comes from the tax break. As you well know, the tax break operates on the margin, and changes the marginal profitability of wind will have a magnified effect on the overall numbers of profitable wind projects.

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