Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Ugly situation on the energy bill

The old axiom is that legislation and sausages are two things you really don't want to see being made.

The 2003 Energy Bill is the most distasteful hot dog of the Washington world this season - there's so much pork in there that they've used up everything but the squeal.

Sadly, among all the foolish overloading of the bill, windy geocentric debate and partisan filibustering, the failure to get a basic energy bill in place is costing us jobs and money in northwest Iowa.

The Clipper/MidAmerican wind power farm was put on hold, just hours before we were tipped that an announcement was going to be made, because Congress didn't get the bill passed. The package includes the key renewal of the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit, set to expire in December. Without that action, all of the clean wind energy developments in northern Iowa will come to a screeching stop.

MidAmerican insiders have told us plainly - no tax credit, no new wind developments.

Congress knew it, and blew it. Hope they have enough political hot air to come blow the blades on our local windfarm, if they can't get the simple production credit renewal together - once they go back from an extended holiday break.

In the Clipper project alone, some $27 million in new turbines are proposed for Buena Vista County, and much more in neighboring Sac County. In all it represents over $300 million initial investment in rural north central and northwest Iowa. That's jobs, income for farms, and tax money into the local county treasuries.

The uncertainties surely are not good either for the ethanol industry, one of the fastest growing forms of economic development in northwest Iowa, or for any of the other alternative forms of energy under exploration.

It's doubtful that all of the members of Congress voting on the measure even know what all it includes. The bill is said to be over 1,000 pages long, written and rewritten countless times over three years, with thousands of different provisions aimed at every corner of the country.

For many people, it is still a disappointment. For those who wanted the government to deal aggressively with the issues of climate change and air pollution from factories and auto exhaust, it apparently doesn't. Others say that it fails to take any serious steps toward independence from foreign oil.

How important is that? According to the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. writes a check DAILY for $12 million to Iraq alone for oil. So who's REALLY been funding middle east terrorism?

There is no doubt that wind energy is vital to Iowa. It is clean, it is renewable, it is ours for the taking. Already, wind supplies all or part of the electrical energy for 1.3 million homes in America. One could question whether we need out-of-state mega-developers as opposed to more locally-initiated projects that would keep the revenue here at home, but we have yet to hear anyone argue against the wind energy credit, which in fact has been renewed twice before - after being allowed to expire by Congressional mess-ups both times.

It is foolish to tie up such a time-sensitive, slam-dunk piece of work as the wind tax credit with the energy bill's reams of controversial pork, which originally included the president's very questionable backing of oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The bill still gives away $20 billion to build a trans-Alaska gas pipeline which is unlikely to happen in any case, and at best, would provide no fuel for a decade or more. The bill even sets aside $6.2 million to encourage people to ride bicycles. It pumps hybrid cars (but doesn't require carmakers to produce better mileage in mainstream vehicles). It would promote the first new nike plants since the 1970s. It pushes photovoltaic cells to power buildings, and makes an effort to provide more reliable power transmission lines.

In other words, there's good, bad and just plain ugly lumped together into a mess that's going to be pretty hard to pass even next year.

Sadly, the bill's GOP authors have dropped the Senate-approved plan that would require the large utility companies to steadily increase their percentage of use of clean, renewable energy like solar, hydroelectric and wind - rough news for the folks of Buffalo Ridge.

We have the will and the technology to become cleaner and more independent in our pursuit of energy. What we don't have, it seems, are political leaders who can make a simple tax credit decision happen on time.