Editorial: Support research, not wind energy credit

Published Nov 16, 2012 at 04:00AM

Tax increases alone are not enough to balance the U.S. budget; it will take spending cuts as well to get the job done. One place to start is with the generous federal tax credit currently given to those in the wind energy business.

The credit, which costs $12 billion, is due to expire at the end of the year, and governors from several states, including Oregon’s John Kitzhaber, earlier this week called on Congress and the administration to keep them alive. Failure to do so could cost as many as 37,000 jobs, one study said.

Supporters of the credit are correct in noting that this country has subsidized everything from the spread of electricity into rural America to highways to oil production. Wind, they argue, is among the energy alternatives that will help save the planet from global warming.

But just because subsidies were routine in the past doesn’t mean they should continue to be routine today. Unless the United States wants to become the western hemisphere’s version of Greece, it must get its financial house in order, and that means cutting its obscenely large deficit, a process that almost by definition will be a painful one.

Nor should cutting subsidies mean the government has given up on the fight against global warming. Rather, cutting subsidies to those who produce wind energy and the equipment they use could free up money for something even more important, and that’s research into the best way to get the job done. Alternative energy sources are, no doubt, a big part of this country’s future, and government-financed research is critical to ensuring we get what we need in a way we can use.

The federal government long has been a financier of research in all sorts of areas, from medicine to space to, believe it or not, work done under the wing of the Internal Revenue Service. Putting more money into research on everything from wave energy to the current geothermal experiments being conducted at Newberry Crater, to, yes, wind power makes far more sense than continuing tax breaks for an industry around which questions of efficiency and efficacy continue to swirl.

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