By Eric Ruth
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., joined with Republican colleague Olympia Snowe of Maine on Thursday to introduce a bill that would continue to give companies like NRG Energy tax credits for building offshore wind farms.
Carper and Snow hope the tax credit will give power companies added incentive to launch projects like the one NRG's Bluewater division wants to build off the Delaware coast. That project was slowed when the federal government eliminated most of the funding for a loan guarantee program, and seemed hesitant to extend tax credits.
NRG is seeking reinstatement of the loan program, and has been working to find other ways to finance the project.
Called the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act, the Carper-Snowe bill would extend existing tax credits for offshore wind farm construction, which are due to expire at the end of the year. The bill offers a 30 percent tax credit to companies that successfully produce offshore wind-generated electricity, up to the first 3,000 megawatts. That's roughly equivalent to 600 wind turbines, Carper said.
In part, the extension is needed because offshore wind projects can be more costly and take years to secure federal permits, Carper said.
Once awarded a tax credit, companies have five years to install the facility. Companies cannot get other production or investment tax credits in addition to those that would be available under the Offshore Wind Power Act, which is being co-sponsored by five other senators, including Chris Coons of Delaware.
"You have to be successful" to qualify for the credit, Carper said. "We reward success."
Bluewater, owned by NRG Energy, wants to build a wind farm 13 miles off the Delaware coast; it would comprise between 49 large turbines and 150 smaller ones. It has the first contract in the nation for offshore wind power, signed in 2008 with Delmarva Power for enough power to light 54,000 homes.
"This legislation provides a clear and consistent tax credit that will put our nation on the path to achieving our goal of operating 20 percent wind energy by 2030 and develop an incentive for energy companies to invest in this breakthrough technology," Snowe said in a statement.
Carper said efforts to speed the permitting process for offshore "claims" of wind farm territory have been successful.
The Department of Interior, Carper said, has "the most convoluted and time-consuming permitting process that we could imagine. They went to work. They found ways to shorten the permitting process and that has been dealt with."
Next, Carper hopes to convene a roundtable of the stakeholders in late August or early September to have a "robust discussion" of what other government incentives might be needed to spur private capital investment in wind power.
"This is not something a government should be trying to do alone," Carper said.