Big Wind wins protection from eagle-death prosecutions, but the production tax credit is still up in the air

I missed this at the tail end of last week, but it’s precisely the outcome I was expecting to this latest dustup over the Obama administration’s favorable treatment of its much-beloved renewable energy projects: The Department of Interior, in their ever-infinite wisdom, decided on Friday to institute a rule that will allow wind energy projects to completely avoid compliance with Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and its wildlife-related legal brethren with permits good for thirty years. Via the WSJ:

The newly finalized rule would grant 30-year permits allowing wind farms and other projects to accidentally kill federally protected eagles, provided they meet certain criteria. …

The new rule, which takes effect immediately, is a victory for the wind industry. The industry has contended that the five-year permit created uncertainty, as companies prepared to finance large-scale projects intended to last up to three decades. …

“This isn’t a free pass,” said Peter Kelley, vice president of public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. “To get a permit you have to persuade the government you’re going to do an extensive regime or offset [bird harm] by preserving habitat.”

Yes, because I’m sure the process of persuading the Obama administration that their politically preferred pet energy projects need a specialized permit will be most scrupulous indeed — no “free passes” here, no way! The Department of Justice did finally saddle a wind company with some eagle-death fines earlier this month, but I’ve a feeling that that was more of a small placating gesture ahead of this doozy of a special exemption. Wildlife groups are not pleased about the situation:

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold on the group’s website. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle. Audubon will continue to look for reasonable, thoughtful partners to wean America off fossil fuels because that should be everyone’s highest priority. We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table.”

The issue for me has never necessarily been that wind turbines are big bird killers; if wind energy were the clean, cost-effective, and prosperity-inducing energy source its proponents are always portraying it as, that might be a regrettable but worthwhile price to pay. The problem, of course, is that despite their many forms of special federal treatment, wind energy is not a competitive energy source — as evidenced by the fact that, while they won this particular bird-death battle over regulatory uncertainty, they are still fighting tooth and nail for the continuation of the production tax credit that largely determines whether wind industry lives or dies. A PTC extension isn’t looking immediately likely at the moment, and wind companies are rushing to make it in under the wire, via the National Journal:

Uncertainty over expiration of the wind production tax credit has dealt a devastating blow to the wind industry’s forward march. …

When Congress extended the credit at the beginning of 2013, it altered the terms. Now, construction doesn’t have to be finished before the credit expires for a project to be eligible for the subsidy—it just has to be underway. …

But while contract signing hasn’t slowed heading into expiration of the credit the way it did last year, the industry won’t be insulated from damage forever if the subsidy is allowed to lapse.

“If the PTC is not extended this year, that’s a concern because we need to have it extended as soon as possible,” the wind association’s CEO, Tom Kiernan, said in an interview last month. “We’re not going to fall off the cliff as rapidly as we did this year, but if the credit isn’t extended it will still have a similar effect—it’s just that the curve [representing the construction drop-off] will be smoothed out.”

As in, if the credit isn’t extended, there will be a huge drop-off in investment, because wind isn’t up to snuff without it? Hello?!

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023