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Political Tone to Wind Announcement

The announcement that Siemens Energy has been hired to build nearly 450 wind turbines featured more than just celebrations and congratulations.  It had a distinct political feel as well.

Mid-American Energy will use the turbines from Siemens to develop five wind farms in Iowa over the next two years.  More than 1,300 blades will be produced in Fort Madison.

Mid-American CEO Bill Fehrman says the wind farms will eventually generate enough energy to power about 300,000 households.

What we need to do is create a more stable policy environment.

“And frankly, if the federal government decides to extend the production tax credits," says Fehrman, "we would be very excited about doing additional projects going forward.”

The US Department of Energy says that tax credit has been available for about 20 years, but of late, it has only been extended on a year-by-year basis.

That is the wrong approach according to American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Keirnan.

“You can’t run an industry if you have that type of boom or bust and boom or bust," says Kiernan.  "We need to get the message to Congress: Enough of the on-again, off-again.  What we need to do is create a more stable policy environment.”

Kiernan says the uncertainty over the most recent renewal of the credit led to just a few turbines being installed in the first half of this year.

He says Congress extending it for a multi-year period would address that uncertainty.

Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa 2) was the only federal lawmaker at the announcement in Fort Madison.

He says the biggest hurdle facing the tax credit is that some of his colleagues will not support it without comprehensive tax reform.

"And I don’t want to be too terribly cynical about this, because everyone in this room is no doubt cynical about Congress at the moment," says Loebsack. "Who here expects there is going to be comprehensive tax reform in the Congress anytime soon.  I bet not a one of you.”

Loebsack says that’s why all supporters of wind energy must reach out to federal lawmakers and speak in favor of the production tax credit.

The likely expiration of the credit on December 31, 2013 will not affect ongoing projects as they will qualify for it as long as construction began in 2013.

The likelihood of another major wind-energy celebration occurring in southeast Iowa, though, could hinge on whether lawmakers can stop bloviating and start working together.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.