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Romney's last minute walkback on wind subsidies

Posting in Energy

To paraphrase commentator Mark Shields, Romney is the Kama Sutra of politics.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has had longstanding opposition to tax credits that subsidize the industry, but now, just days before the vote, he is full of wind (subsidies).

By most accounts the U.S. presidential race is very a narrow contest, and a few 'swing states' are receiving considerable attention from the candidates. Iowa is one of those states, and also happens to be the nation's leader in wind power. Mitt Romney walking back his positions for political expediency is nothing new - he's done it on nearly every issues from gay rights to health care.

One could easily have predicted this rebirth as a champion of the Production Tax Credit (PTC). Which Romney should Iowans believe when jobs are on the line? I don't know - that's for voters to decide.

Romney now says he would "phase out subsidies once the industry is on its feet," instead of flatly opposing the PTC. His latest position, given during a stump speech in Iowa, is at odds with his earlier statements and his party's voting record in Congress. Here's some history about the issue:

The PTC is due to expire at the end of this year. Mr. Romney explicitly stated in July that he doesn’t favor its renewal. Only Newt Gingrich made supportive statements during the Republican primaries. Romney's campaign argued that if elected he would “end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits,” and added that wind power will stand on its own if it’s viable.

(A note to Mr. Romney: The PTC was created under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and signed into law by Republican George H. Bush.)

Today, Romney is letting subterfuge compete on its merits. Iowa leads the nation in wind energy production, and projects such as Rolling Hills Wind Farm have generated over US$5 billion of private investment for the state with an estimated 4,000 jobs created. Voters are sure to take notice of his newfound PTC love.

Some of those projects replaced jobs lost in small town factories that were shuttered when the financial crisis hit. The wind power industry points to these jobs as a reason why the government should act to end its boom/bust cycle and says that past expirations have severely stymied business.

To be fair, both parties have favored ending subsidies - with Democrats seeking to end fossil fuel payouts and the Republican House caucus voting against renewables in lockstep. The GOP House has been investigating one wind energy project and stymied hearings on climate change. When will Romney investigate his principles?

Update:

Romney's campaign has walked back the walk back, telling The Hill's energy reporter Nick Juliano that he still favors allowing the PTC to expire at the end of this year (another strategy that has been indicative of his campaign). That leaves little time for the industry to "get on its feet."

(Image credit: PlanetPOV)

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— By on October 26, 2012, 8:46 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure