Still no tax credit extension in sight -- Congress goes home

United States congressmen and congresswomen left town October 18, many to go home and fight battles for re-election, without resolving some of the nation's most pressing issues, including a national energy policy and a national budget. An energy bill -- on which an extension beyond 2003 of wind's all-important Production Tax Credit (PTC) depends -- has been working its way through a House of Representatives and Senate conference committee since early summer. Caught in the bill's contentious issues is an energy tax package that includes a PTC extension to December 31, 2006.

Congress returns to Washington DC on November 12, but it seems unlikely that a "lame duck" session after the elections, which could shift the balance of power in each of the houses, will produce a settlement this year of the differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. Others fear that if the bill is tackled during the lame duck session, it may lead to poor national energy policy, largely because the remaining issues are so complex. For his part, Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association doubts Congress will come back to work on something as complicated as an energy bill, regardless of how much America needs a long term energy policy.

Leading the list of the bill's contentious issues are the House proposal to allow oil exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and a Senate proposal for a climate change plan. Also getting in the way of an agreement are reforms to the electricity market, how much those reforms should affect public power, which accounts for 25% of US electricity use, and a federal renewables portfolio standard (RPS) favoured by the Senate, but not by the House. The RPS aims to set a minimum standard for the renewables content of power supply portfolios and, properly structured, would lead to a stable long term market for wind in the US.