Federal energy bill impacts Vermont wind projects

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(Host) A deadlock in Washington over national energy legislation threatens wind energy projects in Vermont. Senate Democrats fought the energy bill because they said it was too generous for the oil and gas industry. But the bill also renewed tax credits that the wind industry says are essential for their projects to succeed.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The national energy bill put some environmentalists in a bind. They dislike much of the legislation. Most objectionable is a provision that waives legal liability for makers of a gasoline additive that’s polluted groundwater all over the country.But the bill also renews tax credits for wind energy projects.

David Blittersdorf is president of a Hinesburg company that makes wind monitoring equipment. He’s also on the board of the American Wind Energy Association, which lobbied for the bill.
He says the industry depends on the production tax credit – or P-T-C.

(Blittersdorf) “That PTC incentive makes the difference between making money or losing money on a wind farm. So, you know, when you have profit margins at 10 percent, you can’t be 10 percent in the hole versus 10 percent positive. So I think next year, you’ll see very few wind turbines put in, compared to this year, when quite a few were. And in Vermont, it could hold up quite a few projects that are on the drawing boards.”

(Dillon) There are at least five major wind energy projects planned for Vermont, and developers continue to scout potential sites on upper elevation ridgelines.

Matt Rubin, president of East Haven Windfarm, wants to install four, 330-foot wind turbines on East Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom. The tax credits help lower the cost of wind electricity by two cents a kilowatt hour. But Rubin says his project is still feasible without the tax break.

(Rubin) “It’s a disappointment but it’s not a show stopper. And we’re going to press on.”

(Dillon) The credits expire at the end of the year and Senate Republicans are reluctant to reauthorize the credits outside of the energy bill. They want to keep it in the bigger legislation as a key bargaining chip.

Blittersdorf says the uncertainty could hurt smaller producers who may not have the financial resources to wait for Congress to act.

(Blittersdorf) “This on-again, off-again production tax credit really doesn’t help the industry with competition. It makes the big guys stronger and the weaker guys weaker. And any new industry needs lot of new players and this is no way to help new players in the industry. It really takes the smaller guys and knocks them down.”

(Dillon) Both Blittersdorf and Rubin personally opposed the energy bill, even though the wind industry supported it. Advocates of renewable energy say that most of the federal subsidies go to the oil, gas and nuclear industries.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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