Friday, February 28, 2020

Farming the taxpayers: The wind industry's cash cow

If the federal government offered billions of dollars in tax credits and other incentives to promote the stacking of Oreo cookies all the way up to the International Space Station, rich companies would line up to gobble the goodies –  and taxpayers would have to supply the milk.

And that 254-mile high column of cookies would be just about as practical as the billions pumped into the U.S. wind industry.

After all, the same type of fruitless dynamic has monetized corporate wind, which continues its race to force the 30,000 acre on-again, off-again industrial power plants down the throats of property owners and rural residents in Kansas and elsewhere in the country. The delicious addiction of tax incentives and outright subsidies has seen Big Wind grow fat without the pestering of logical accountability. Wind incentives indeed have been a cash cow so humongous only the federal government's barn can hold it.

That cow's been growing. Wind power has certainly expanded in "sometimes" capacity in recent years as the divisive developments have invaded rural communities, offering pittance lease payments to poor farmers and landowners suffering in ag economies beset by low commodity prices. But that growth's not been driven by market demand, since the market knows the only good electricity is electricity that always works. It's been driven instead by billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

The scheme is perhaps best illustrated with one question asked by each community in Kansas fighting the invasion of a taxpayer-funded wind development: Why are there no wind farms in Johnson County?

Most Americans are in the dark as to the detailed mechanics which have been used to fund the development of faulty wind power and the raw, massive bill they're footing in the form of those incentives. That scheme is designed to support an energy industry that can't and will never support itself with its own production in the market for electricity. It's a complicated array of local, state and federal subsidies, federal loans and loan guarantees which has topped $176 billion since 2000 – and most of the federal grants have been awarded since 2007.

There's no question of the chicken or the egg here. Without those subsidies and the generosity of the American taxpayer in opening his wallet for outright cash and his pledge to pay the income taxes for huge companies which escape them through production tax credits, there would be no wind industry in the United States. People in rural communities would still all be speaking to each other instead of being at odds over the giant turbines, and beautiful rural vistas across our country would still be intact instead of resembling science fiction movies.

General Electric, NextEra Energy, Berkshire-Hathaway and others – these massively wealthy companies have been the real winners in the fakery that has always defined the wind industry. The scam is clear – the environment hasn't benefited a whit with the spread of these monstrosities across our pristine rural landscapes, since stable electricity still has to be generated by conventional means to power your household when the wind doesn't blow. The only winners have been the already fabulously rich companies – both domestic and foreign – who've feathered their nests with taxpayer money and kept a willing U.S. Congress on their side.

Case in point, the Production Tax Credit – the gold mine of the wind industry that forgives taxes based on the sporadic output of the turbines – was set to expire with the coming of 2020. Its initial authors thought the industry should be self sufficient by now and ratcheted down the candy for the industry over the past several years with the intent of closing the incentive out by 2020. But at the last minute, in the glob of a temporary federal spending bill that took the place of an actual budget in December 2019, a Democrat-led congress approved the massive spending bill which conveniently rolled in a one-year extension of the tax credit for wind farms. Hence, the scourge of wind farm developers versus rural communities continues.

Famed rich guy Warren Buffet of Berkshire-Hathaway said it best in 2014 when explaining why his companies were in the wind business: "We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms," Buffet said. "That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit."
For the rest of us the logic speaks for itself, but still we continue to pay the cookie stackers.

-Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kan.