"The main federal handout for the wind energy industry has grown considerably despite the fact that it expired at the end of 2013. Over the past two years, IRS administrators have relaxed the eligibility requirements to make it easier for in-progress wind farm projects to qualify for government subsidies (known in Washington as the ‘production tax credit’ or “PTC ”). The IRS has done so repeatedly and quietly, often without action from Congress.
The IRS clarified shortly thereafter that wind farm projects would be able to receive the special tax giveaway if they spent as little as 5 percent of the construction costs. This meant that projects would have to do barely any work by the deadline in order to qualify.
Again, in April 2013, the PTC raised the amount of the subsidy. The IRS issued a notice that raised the value of the tax credit from $22 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced to $23 per megawatt-hour.
That September (2013), the IRS issued additional guidance that expanded the qualifying requirement for taxpayer subsidies even further: This time, the agency said that wind farm projects that generate power before the end of 2015 could claim this special tax credit. This meant that any wind farm project that began generating electricity before Jan. 1, 2016 would eligible for the handout—even though the PTC was on track to expire at the end of 2013, which it did. The IRS also said in the notice that even projects that come online after that might still qualify; the agency intends make decisions on a project-by-project basis.
On a recent Friday afternoon during August (2014) recess, the IRS issued new guidance that expanded the PTC even further. Now, in certain situations, the IRS will allow wind farm developers to sell a project that is either completed or in-progress and the use the selling costs they incur to count toward qualifying for the PTC. The IRS also clarified what “significant work of a physical nature” is needed in order to qualify for the tax credit. The IRS provided a loose definition, saying they that it is the nature of the work that matters (e.g., digging foundations, installing transformers, building roads), not the extent or the cost.
These repeated changes occur with little public notice, seemingly always on Friday afternoons while most in Washington are away from their Blackberries. These are a problem because arbitrary action by a handful of unelected bureaucrats is quietly expanding this taxpayer subsidy, increasing the price tag of this handout more and more every year. Historically, the PTC program has cost an average of $5 billion per year; thanks largely to these expansions, a 1-year extension would cost a whopping $13 billion over the next decade. Given the federal government’s serious fiscal problems, it makes no sense to increase giveaways like this to any private industry, let alone one as economically unviable as wind energy.
Further alarming is the fact that this is happening without actions from elected officials. Members of Congress facing future elections are able to be held accountable to their constituency; out-of-control IRS bureaucrats like Lois Lerner are not. Since Congress has outsourced so much of its authority to federal agencies over the course of the Obama Administration and its predecessors, the IRS can claim that it is acting within the scope of its legal authority when it issues this type of new “guidance” that expands this controversial subsidy program even though it’s expired.
We can’t get federal spending under control if our elected officials aren’t willing to stand up to special interests like those in the wind energy industry. Congress should reject efforts to extend or grow this special carve-out for wind producers, and it should disapprove of the IRS’s ongoing actions to expand it."