Senate Votes to Restore Funding for Wind Energy Research and Development

The U.S. Senate passed an amendment on April 26 that would restore funding for wind energy research and development (R&D) in fiscal year 2017 to $96.4 million—the same amount funded this fiscal year.

The amendment passed by a vote of 54–42 as part of Senate consideration of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2028). Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sponsored the bipartisan amendment.

“Wind energy is popular wherever it’s given a chance,” Grassley said. “New technology enables all kinds of renewable energy to advance. Research funding promotes the next wave of development. Wind energy deserves fair treatment among government support for different energy sources. This amendment gives wind energy the attention it deserves.”

In Grassley’s floor statement, he pointed to support that the government has provided to other “mature” energy industries, such as oil and gas, nuclear, and fossil energy, as justification for continuing to fund wind energy. Grassley noted that the oil and gas industry receives tax benefits that deprive the nation of more than $4 billion in annual tax revenue. He said nuclear energy has received more than $74 billion in federal R&D dollars since 1950, including over $1 billion for FY 2017 (more than 10 times the wind energy allocation).

“Wind energy has tremendous potential to power our communities and create jobs throughout rural America—and smart, targeted research and development is the key to reaching that potential,” said Merkley. “Today’s vote is a victory for enhancing American energy independence, reducing carbon pollution, and creating good-paying American jobs all at the same time.”

It’s not surprising that Grassley and Merkley support wind energy. Iowa leads the nation in wind power, with more than 30% of the state’s total electricity supply provided by wind. Oregon is another of the dozen states that generate at least 10% of their electricity from the wind. Although wind energy only supplied 4.7% of total U.S. generation in 2015, theDepartment of Energy’s Wind Vision report suggests that it could supply as much as 35% of electricity demand by 2050.

Late last year, congressional leaders settled on a multiyear extension of renewable energy tax credits. The agreement provides for the production tax credit (PTC) and alternate investment tax credit for wind energy to be extended at previous levels through 2016. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the credit is currently worth 2.3 cents per kWh. The wind PTC will be reduced to 80% of the present value in 2017, 60% in 2018, and 40% in 2019. After 2019, the wind tax credits are set to expire. The deal provided the wind energy industry with some longer-term certainty and is expected to alleviate the repeated boom-bust cycles caused by ambiguous tax policies.