Did Romney torpedo bipartisan wind tax credit deal?

The Romney presidential campaign on recently came out firmly against the production tax credit for wind power. 

If the Washington scuttlebutt is to believed, that stand torpedoed a bipartisan agreement that could have extended the PTC past its end-of-year expiration date.

The New York Times, citing Senate Finance Committee sources, reports that after “hard-fought” negotiations had apparently brought agreement on a package of business tax breaks that included the wind tax credit, Senate Republicans suddenly removed the PTC “to show their loyalty to presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney.”

On Monday, a spokesman for Romney’s campaign in Iowa had told the Des Moines Register that Romney “will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”

Congressional Democrats and President Obama have been strong advocates for the tax credit, as have a number of Republicans, particularly in states where wind power has been a jobs booster – like Iowa and Colorado. 

But despite having what qualifies in Washington these days as bipartisan support, efforts by wind power proponents to extend the credit beyond its Dec. 31 expiration have stalled in the Senate, where the requirement of 60 votes to pass legislation has proved insurmountable.

The credit, worth 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power produced, generally has run for two years but hasn’t been allowed to expire since 2004.

Every time the tax credit has expired, the wind industry has gone into virtual hibernation – and that’s the forecast again from the American Wind Energy Association. It says 37,000 jobs could be lost if the PTC doesn’t gain an extension, and soon.

Romney himself was overseas on Monday when the news broke that he was lining up solidly against the PTC for wind, but it caused a big stir, and today’s news out of Washington suggests it could continue to ripple through the presidential campaign.

In a Politco story today, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said the exclusion of the PTC this week was unrelated to Romney’s position. He also suggested Romney’s stance on the PTC might be squishier than the campaign made it out to be, with support for a phase-out, instead of an immediate expiration, possible.

“Almost everybody admits that if you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to phase it out,” he said. “I don’t know of anybody who objected to that concept, and I think that might be more consistent with Mitt Romney’s feelings.”

According to the Times, the PTC might still survive the reported contretemps caused by Romney’s opposition. The paper said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) “has pledged to put the credit back when the committee takes up the plan … (and) ultimately, even Republicans believe he will prevail.”

Pete Danko, EarthTechling