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The Energy 202: House GOP wants to water down tax breaks for wind energy. The Senate is unlikely to let it.

with Paulina Firozi


When the House took its first pass at overhauling the tax code, it sent a chill through the swelling wind energy sector.

Included in the original draft, perplexingly to wind lobbyists, was language revisiting a bipartisan compromise extending the tax break for operating wind turbines through 2019.

Two years ago, Democrats won an extension for wind and solar energy tax credits as part of an end-of-year tax and spending package. In exchange, Republicans got a years-long ban on oil exports lifted.

But as part of its bid to revamp the tax structure, House Republicans decided to reopen that compromise, unilaterally. 

While their tax plan targeted other breaks for solar and other renewable-electricity production, the potential changes to the subsidies for wind energy could have the most sweeping effect.

The House tax bill would make it more difficult for firms looking to build wind turbines from qualifying for a set of tax credits used to finance construction of the behemoth towers and blades, which often have high upfront costs. Even for developers that do qualify, the bill would trim the production tax credit for wind from $24 to $15 per megawatt-hour.

Fortunately for the industry, the places best suited for onshore wind energy are concentrated in the Midwest and Great Plains — traditionally, rural strongholds for Republicans. Three GOP senators — Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), John Thune (S.D.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) — have come forward in opposition to altering the wind tax credits. 

"It shouldn’t be re-opened,” Grassley said in a statement after the House bill was introduced. The tax proposal introduced in the Senate, and being debated on the Senate Finance Committee on which Grassley is a senior member, leaves the wind tax credits untouched.

Still, the specter of unwinding the tax breaks for wind has already spooked investors in the capital-intensive projects.

“The uncertainty with the House bill is freezing the deals that are underway,” said Tom Kiernan, chief executive of the utility wind lobbying group American Wind Energy Association.

Even though the Senate seems unlikely to slash the wind tax breaks, the incentives could end up being a horse that's traded in conference as the two chambers hammer out the difference in their proposals — should the tax overhaul ever get to that stage.

“The solar deals are moving forward but the wind deals — people are still working on them but they’re not closing,” said Keith Martin co-head of U.S. projects at the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

He added that he sees wind deals being delayed, although “nobody sees the whole market. All you can get is anecdotal evidence.”

If the House bill passed, some wind project already in the works — which the industry says totals $50 billion in investment over the past two years — might not qualify for the tax break. 

An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that the House tax plan, if passed, would slash U.S. wind development in half, from 38 gigawatts of new wind power through 2020 to only 19 gigawatts. Similarly, Goldman Sachs analysts found that the market would be reduced by more than half as well under the House plan.

The United States isn’t alone globally in tightening its belt when it comes to wind subsidies. European nations are too, which is putting a squeeze on turbine manufacturers globally. 

Earlier this month, the Danish firm Vestas, the largest wind turbine maker, said its quarterly revenue dropped by 6 percent as compared to the same period in 2016. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, another manufacturer, announced this month the elimination of 6,000 jobs, more than one fifth of its workforce, after its own disappointing round of earnings.

As another potential notch in the belt, the House bill adds to industry apprehensions.

“If you’re an investor, if you’re a bank, if you’re a tax equity provider, and you get a piece of legislation that challenges the provisions of that you thought we’re kind of sacrosanct, that’s a jolt,” said Chris Brown, Vestas’s North American president, who added that Vestas is “confident in our Senate support.”

“So you kind of stop and pause and say, what are we going to do?”


-- Trump vs. the world: On Monday, the Trump administration held an event pitching coal (and nuclear) power to the international climate delegates gathered in Bonn, Germany.

By most accounts, it was not received well.

From Politico's Emily Holden and Kalina Oroschakoff: "The Trump administration's effort to pitch coal at the international climate change meeting backfired on Monday, drawing heckling and booing at White House officials and energy industry representatives at a U.S. event. The White House-sponsored panel discussion — held on the sidelines of the annual international climate change conference — was designed to promote more efficient use of coal and natural gas as well as nuclear power, but the event quickly turned into an outpouring of anger at the U.S. for pushing for energy sources blamed for boosting the Earth's temperatures. 'Clean coal is bull----,' one person yelled. 'Liars, you are a bunch of liars,' another bellowed from the back of the room."

Protesters interrupted an event to promote fossil fuels and nuclear power at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 13. (Video: Reuters)

One Chinese reporter needled Trump administration officials about a 2012 tweet from the president calling climate change a Chinese hoax, according to Lisa Friedman of the New York Times:

Protesters also sang a modified version of "God Bless The U.S.A."  before emptying the room.

Other attendees condemned the appearance from afar. "“Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to The Guardian.

The point the U.S. delegation was trying to make in Bonn: That burning fossil fuels for energy is necessary to lift billions of people out of poverty. “Without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible,” said George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, according to The Times. “This panel is controversial only if we chose to bury our heads in the sand.”

-- On Monday, Democracy Forward, a nonpartisan legal watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information Act compliant against the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the Bay Journal, a monthly newspaper covering environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay. The agency had funded the Bay Journal through four presidential administrations before the EPA cut off the spigot under President Trump.

The filing is a first step for the Bay Journal to appeal the decision under EPA chief Scott Pruitt to cut its funding midway through its grant period. The Energy 202 wrote about that decision in September.

-- Up next in Congress: Michael Dourson, President Trump’s pick to lead the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, has not yet advanced to the Senate floor for a vote, which The Intercept’s Sharon Lerner writes may be an “indication that Republicans don’t yet have the votes” to confirm him. While the Trump administration has signaled that industry experience won’t stand in the way of nominees to the EPA, there seems to be a hold up with Dourson. Red state Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W-Va.) has said he will oppose him, and the Intercept reported that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is also expected to vote against him. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has been leading the effort against Dourson, told The Intercept that “I know some of our Republican colleagues don’t feel good about the votes they cast on the floor.” He added: “After casting votes for one troubling nominee after the other after the other, you reach a point where some of the Republicans will say, Enough already. No more.”

-- Meanwhile: A group of nearly five dozen former EPA attorneys slammed the agency's new "sue and settle" policy. More from The Hill: "Dozens of former [EPA] attorneys are assailing the Trump administration’s policy meant to curb legal settlements with environmental groups. The 57 attorneys, who all served in nonpolitical career roles, accused EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt of deliberately misrepresenting legal settlement practices and the work of attorneys both at the EPA and the Justice Department."

Puerto Rico Governor urges equal treatment, amid $94 billion in damages (Video: Reuters)

-- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Monday called for $94.4 billion to pay for damages as the island continues to recover from Hurricane Maria. He said that restoring the energy grid was the main priority in the recovery efforts.

Here’s a breakdown of the estimated damages, shared via Politico’s Sarah Ferris:

“This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, where we’re not only looking to rebuild  as was before but we want to make it much stronger much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the caribbean and the rest of the region,” Rosselló said Monday.“We’re also making a commitment, I’m also making a commitment, that this will be the most transparent recovery effort in the history of the United States.”

Rosselló and Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R) also called for equality in the recovery efforts. “Historically we have been treated unequally,” Rosselló said. “But, I have said, from the storm onwards, I have said that the White House has responded to all of our requests.”

-- More Whitefish fall out: A batch of emails that were included in more than 2,000 pages of documents that were turned over to congressional investigators show that the small Montana-based firm struggled from the get-go on its quests to restore the power grid.

Here are some other highlights from documents, per The Post's Aaron C. Davis and Steven Mufson: “According to the emails, PREPA’s attorneys warned against the terms of an expanded agreement with Whitefish. PREPA went ahead and signed that contract on Oct. 17 without making many recommended changes. That contract built on an earlier agreement PREPA and Whitefish signed on Sept. 26…The Oct. 17 contract raised the ceiling amount for payments to Whitefish to $300 million. Much of that money was for linemen that Whitefish was bringing to the island, billing at a rate of over $300 per hour, per person. The documents show those rates were in some cases more than twice what its subcontractors were charging, allowing Whitefish to pocket as much as one of every two dollars it billed PREPA for the work."

Here's more on the situation in Puerto Rico:

  • Rosselló also called on lawmakers to consider excluding Puerto Rico from a proposed excise tax in current legislation to overhaul the tax system, per the Associated Press. “If the goal of the tax reform is to create American jobs, then Puerto Rico must be taken into consideration… If not, it would end up being worse than how it is today.”

  • How will the island rebuild the power grid? One idea is to build microgrids, local self-sufficient networks of generators and storage devices that would mitigate reliance on a main power grid, José Antonio Santiváñez, a professor of industrial management engineering at Puerto Rico’s University of Turabo told the Scientific American.  “Another reason microgrids are a good option for Puerto Rico is that there are hard-to-reach places on the island where [PREPA] said it would never be able to deliver power,” he added.

  • Who exactly is in charge of Puerto Rico as the territory recovers? That was the issue at center of a court battle Monday in which a U.S. federal judge ruled that a former military officer could not oversee PREPA, a win for Rosselló, the Associated Press reported. U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled that the Financial Oversight and Management Board couldn't take control of the territory’s government agencies, denying a request to name retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Noel Zamot as the utility’s chief transformation officer.

-- Trump vs. science: The White House is not holding an event for U.S. Nobel Prize recipients, a break with usual practice, The Post's Anne Gearan reports. "Trump’s decision for this first year in office has been a topic of interest among scientists especially, because of administration policies and decisions seen as hostile to research into climate change, pollution, pesticides and more. The Nobel event typically takes place in mid- to late November, a tight window after the winners are announced in early October and before the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in early December." Eight American scientists and academics won the prize. A White House spokesman called it "just a scheduling issue."


-- Keystone update: The Nebraska Public Service Commission announced it would deliver its long-awaited decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Nov. 20. The five members of the commission have been reviewing the proposal for the 275-mile pipeline for months. President Trump granted a permit for the pipeline in March. For a primer, read Steven Mufson's piece from August.

-- Swaying the youth vote: The American Conservative Coalition, a nonprofit organization and group of young Republican activists, now has the support of 30 college Republican chairs who want a “clean energy future.” More from CNBC: “The divergence of environmental views between millennial Republicans and their elders mirrors a dynamic reflected in a 2016 Pew Research opinion survey. The study bemoaned the ‘polarized views’ that characterize the debate over the environment, noting that the climate skepticism demonstrated by Trump runs deep among the GOP rank and file. With the ACC's efforts, college Republicans intend to serve notice on the GOP's senior leadership, [Benjamin Backer, the ACC's president and a sophomore at the University of Washington] insisted. ‘The Republican Party really values their young activists … and this will send a really strong message that things need to change,’ he told CNBC.”


-- Another record for this hurricane season: There are just two and a half weeks left in the 2017 hurricane season, and a disturbance hundreds of miles southwest of the Azores has a 50 percent chance of becoming this year’s 18th named storm. If the disturbance upgrades into subtropical storm Sean, 2017 would tie for eighth place on the list of most active seasons going back to 1851, Bloomberg reported.

-- Earthquake hunting: We know where earthquakes are going to hit, but it’s harder to figure out exactly when, explains Vox’s Umair Irfan. “Using historical records and geologic measurements, they can highlight potential seismic hot spots and the kinds of tremors they face,” he wrote after a deadly 7.3 magnitude quake that struck near the Iran-Iraq border on Sunday. “It’s difficult to figure out when an earthquake will occur, since the forces that cause them happen slowly over a vast area but are disbursed rapidly over a narrow region. What’s amazing is that forces built up across continents over millions of years can hammer cities in minutes.”

-- Maybe this will catch on: A software company based in New York City announced it will provide employees paid “climate leave” for up to five days for anyone who cannot work due to extreme weather events, per Bloomberg. In cases where a state of emergency is declared, affected employees may receive additional time off.

-- A bright spot to the Keurig calamity?: People are smashing their Keurig coffee machines after the company pulled ads from Fox News commentator Sean Hannity’s program over the weekend following Hannity’s remarks about allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

“It's definitely not the point they're trying to make, but it's a point all the same. Keurig machines and the coffee pods they squirt hot water through are extremely bad — for the planet, for consumers, and evidently for Sean Hannity's Fox News program,” wrote Damon Beres for Mashable. Beres uses Keurig’s moment in the news to criticize the brewer and its negative impact on the environment. Two of his points include that the “billions of coffee pods” sold each year are “practically impossible to recycle” and that the pods are made from polypropylene, a plastic that is harmful on the environment.



  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry will host the North American Energy Ministerial in Houston, Tex.
  •  The House Natural Resources Committee holds an oversight hearing  on “The Need for Transparent Financial Accountability in Territories’ Disaster Recovery Efforts.”
  •  The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearingon response and recovery to environmental concerns from the 2017 hurricane season.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety holds a hearing.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on "Hurricane Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
  • The Hill holds an event on digitalizing infrastructure.

Coming Up

  • Roll Call hosts Energy Decoded on Wednesday.
  • The Progressive Policy Institute & Common Good host“Rebuilding America: What are we Waiting For?” on Thursday.

Here are President Trump's top five false or misleading claims:  

An effigy of President Trump was burned in Manila during a protest against his visit to the Philippines for the ASEAN summit:

An effigy of President Trump was burned in Manila during a protest against President Trump's visit to the Philippines for the ASEAN summit on Nov. 13. (Video: entengi2/Instagram)

Watch Stephen Colbert chat with former vice president Joe Biden:

Trevor Noah on the sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore: