Big Election Night For Wind Energy

President Barack Obama beat back a spirited challenge from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to win re-election in a tightly contested presidential race.

With 270 electoral votes needed to secure a victory, Obama tallied 303 to Romney’s 206. In the popular vote, Obama received 59.5 million votes to Romney’s 56.9 million votes.

Although the victory is encouraging, Obama’s win by itself does not guarantee an extension of the expiring production tax credit (PTC). Now, the wind industry will await the federal incentive’s fate in lame-duck Congress, which is expected to begin Nov. 13 and last about three weeks, with a week off for Thanksgiving recess.

The president, who has made wind energy a centerpiece of his presidency, must continue to work with a deeply divided Congress to extend the expiring PTC, whose uncertain future has already claimed thousands of jobs from developers, manufacturers and component suppliers.

“There is no question that President Obama’s win more aggressively promotes wind energy,” says Frank Maisano, an energy policy analyst at law firm Bracewell & Guiliani. “The good news is that wind energy will continue to play a large part in the president’s energy portfolio.”

The wind industry also received the positive news that several legislators with ties to renewable energy survived tough congressional challenges and emerged victorious. As was expected, the Democrats retained control of the Senate, while the Republicans maintained control of the House.

In Iowa – where the PTC became a wedge issue in the campaign – a pair of outspoken PTC advocates won close races.

In the state’s 4th District, Rep. Steve King, a Republican, defeated Christie Vilsack, the wife of the Secretary of Agriculture and former Gov. Tom Vilsack. King, who won a fifth term, sports one of the most conservative voting records in Congress.

But wind energy is so crucial to Iowa’s economic and manufacturing base, some members of its delegation, such as King, risked alienating their own party colleagues by supporting the PTC.

“During the campaign, Steve King took a beating over his PTC stance from his Tea Party colleagues,” remarks Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association. He characterizes the election as “one of the most important for wind energy in a few decades.”

In Iowa’s 3rd District, by virtue of redistricting, two incumbents faced each other, with Rep. Tom Latham, a Republican, defeating Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, a Democrat. Latham, also a staunch supporter of the PTC, made headlines during the campaign for slamming Romney for his anti-PTC stance.

In Colorado, a state that has seen more than its share of job losses in the wind sector, wind energy champions Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both Republicans, won their respective re-election bids.

Importantly, wind energy didn’t lose much ground from legislators who chose not to run. In Maine, former Gov. Angus King, a renewable energy advocate, won the seat vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who, along with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., was instrumental in crafting legislation important to offshore wind energy.

However, the night was not without some disappointment, as the Michigan electorate roundly voted down Proposal 3, which would have increased the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from 10% by 2015 to 25% by 2025. Michigan was seeking to become the first state to increase its RPS via constitutional amendment. Proposal 3 was defeated by a margin of nearly two to one.

With the election settled, Prior says, the president can now begin to work with legislators to address wind energy’s most pressing concern: extending the PTC.

“Hopefully, the PTC will be extended in some form, either by an extension or a phaseout, and we’ll have some direction,” he says. “At least we’ll know the direction so that we can go forth on how best to deal with it.”

By Mark Del Franco,