Debate swirls around expiring wind incentive

New wind turbines may become a rare site if the federal Production Tax Credit is allowed to expire.

New wind turbines may become a rare site if the federal Production Tax Credit is allowed to expire. 

A combine rolling through a field of swaying wheat is an iconic image of Kansas past and present.

To see the future, look up. Wind turbines are doing more of the churning and turning across the state’s farmland these days.

“You have a crop blowing above you at 300 feet,” said Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, which advocates for the wind energy industry in eight states. “All you have to do is harvest it.”

However, there’s a storm cloud threatening that blue-sky vision. If wind energy producers lose a key federal tax credit set to expire at the end of the year, the booming industry that has planted turbines all over Western Kansas could go bust.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

But although wind supporters are eager to see the production tax credit extended as part of a larger budget deal to avoid the fiscal cliff — only fair, they say, because every other energy sector receives some form of subsidy — they’re hardly ready to write their obituaries if that doesn’t happen.

Rob Freeman, CEO of Lenexa-based TradeWind Energy LLC, is confident lawmakers in Washington will renew, for a year or two, the tax credit, which provides 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. His 40-employee company has rushed to complete projects by year’s end to make sure they qualify for the credit.

Once those are done, however, there’s not much in the pipeline.

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