Debate over wind credit enters congressional races
August 23, 2012
DENVER – Republicans are walking a fine line when it comes to wind energy in Colorado, and it’s playing out in congressional races in the debate over a tax credit that impacts hundreds of jobs.
Republicans generally don’t like subsidies that favor clean energy, which they deride as government picking winners and losers. Mitt Romney opposes the tax credit, and it’s not part of the GOP platform for next week’s convention.
But many Colorado Republicans are joining Democrats in calling on Congress to extend a wind energy production tax credit.
That hasn’t stopped Democrats from pouncing on Republicans. In the suburban Denver 7th District, home of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s campaign is accusing Republican challenger Joe Coors of flip-flopping on his support of the credit.
The Coors campaign insists he supports the tax credit. But Perlmutter spokeswoman Leslie Oliver points to a March breakfast with Jefferson County Republicans during which Coors derides the tax benefit, and the threat of layoffs by from Denmark-based Vestas, the world’s largest turbine manufacturer.
“They are waiting for the tax credit to determine whether or not they’re going to lay off 184 people in Colorado,” Coors said. “And the tax credit comes from where? It comes from your pocketbook and my pocketbook.”
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This month, the Copenhagen company announced plans to cut 90 jobs in Pueblo and 30 in Brighton, blaming the stalled action on the wind energy tax credit. The credit helps offset the cost of electricity production during a wind farm’s first 10 years.
Coors spokeswoman Michelle Yi said he supports the credit, and that he learned since making the comments that the tax benefit is based on the amount of energy produced.
“He just learned more about it and the fact that it’s not a subsidy,” Yi said.
Vestas, which has about 1,700 employees in Colorado and 20,400 globally, said Wednesday that it will cut 7 percent of its workforce in its second round of layoffs later this year.
The tax credit is also supported by three of four of Colorado’s Republican congressmen, including Rep. Scott Tipton, whose 3rd District includes Pueblo. He said in a statement last week that “it’s heart-wrenching that 90 more Pueblo residents will have to go home and tell their families that they lost their jobs.”
“What is most frustrating is that this could have, and should have been prevented,” Tipton said.
Tipton’s Democratic challenger, Sal Pace, insists Tipton should’ve done more, including sponsoring a separate bill. Tipton campaign manager Michael Fortney dismissed Pace’s criticism.
“Tipton continues to do everything he can to create Colorado jobs and save Colorado jobs,” Fortney said.
Colorado’s two Democratic senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, have both repeatedly pushed for renewal of the tax credit.
Udall has taken the Senate floor several times on the matter and said in a recent news release that “Congress’s inaction has real-life consequences for families in Colorado and across our nation.”
Despite their support, Republicans have a more nuanced position.
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, for example, has said the wind energy credit renewal should be short term and not long term. But Coffman’s Democratic challenger in the 6th District, Joe Miklosi, argues that’s short-sighted.
“It doesn’t recognize the significant number of jobs and economic contributions that wind and renewable energy industries bring to Colorado,” said Miklosi spokesman Ryan Hobart.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner said he supports extending the break because of economic uncertainty, but he understands why Romney and others in his party oppose it. An increasing number of Republicans, including Gardner and Coors, have talked about simplifying the tax code and doing away with unspecified tax breaks.
“It really goes to the heart of a conversation that not only Mitt Romney, but I and the Republican majority in the house want to have, and that’s about tax reform,” Gardner said.