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Wind tax credit separates Owens, Doheny

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In a coming Congressional election where voters may have a hard time discerning differences on issues between incumbent Congressman William L. Owens and Matthew A. Doheny, their stances on a federal subsidy for wind power gives voters a clear choice.

Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said the federal Production Tax Credit should be extended on wind-generated electricity for at least one more year to match the subsidy for other renewable sources.

“That’s part of an overall package of tax credits, which also go to biomass and other renewable energy projects, so in general, I think that has to be part of the next package,” he said. “I would like to see a credit for wind extended for another year, then considered as part of an entire package of tax code reform.”

Mr. Doheny, a Republican from Watertown, opposes the wind power subsidy.

“I would be against extending the tax credit,” he said. “This is the type of corporate welfare we’ve got to start getting away from. I want to create a flatter and fair tax code.”

The credit means $22 per megawatt against corporate income taxes for producers — or those who buy them from producers — if the project begins production before the end of 2012.

Wind power generated 3.25 percent of the country’s electricity during the first half of 2011 and wind power facilities represent 35 percent of new power capacity in the U.S. in the last four years, the American Wind Energy Association said.

The association supports legislation to extend the credit for four years, which it argues will provide stability for developers and the growing manufacturing and support industry for wind.

Current federal forecasts show a drop from about 7,000 megawatts to be installed in 2012 to almost none in 2013. Wind proponents argue that the credit needs to be extended soon to avoid precipitous drops in wind power construction, as has happened in past expirations.

Wind power opponents want to see an end to any subsidy for wind power because, among other reasons, the power source is variable, the major developers are companies based outside the U.S. and gives wind developers an unfair advantage, arguments Mr. Doheny agrees with.

“People are saying, ‘Enough!’” Mr. Doheny said. “This is a land of opportunity and we want a level playing field, but we don’t think governments should be picking winners and losers, particularly winners who wouldn’t make it otherwise.”

If government subsidizes “anything enough, people will produce it,” he said.

And for the north country, he said wind subsidies are a bad deal.

“In areas like the Golden Crescent and the Thousand Islands, there are huge potential negative local impacts in terms of local economies and tourism,” he said. “I’m a pro-business guy and focused like a laser on bringing this country, our region, the north country, good businesses.”

If built before the end of 2012, wind power projects in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties could reap millions from the credit, which developers say they need to attract developers for the capital-intensive projects.

Mr. Owens said he understands the acrimony in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties over turbine placement, but that siting turbines is a “local issue” and not something the federal government should be involved in.

Eventually, he would like to see the end of subsidies, but more across the board.

“When we look at tax credits and deductions, we need to look at the policy behind it and whether it achieved its goal, whether or not it’s necessary,” Mr. Owens said.

But if Congress reduces tax credits and breaks, it should also fairly give tax rate reductions to make up for the possible jump in tax collections.

“At a minimum, there should be a substantial reduction of tax credits and other forms of reductions, but on the other side of that, we should also get reduced taxes,” Mr. Owens said.

“The two things have to be done in tandem,” he said.

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