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The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)

Every Day is Christmas For Big Energy

Solon Economou

Massachussetts -- And you, dear taxpayer, are paying for the presents, the wrappings and the ribbons.

Of the highly touted 2005 federal energy bill, for which we are being billed - or bilked - over $20 billion in tax breaks for the windfall-profit-making big energy industry, President Bush said:

"America must have an energy policy that plans for the future but meets the needs of today. I believe we can develop our resources and protect our environment."

Who can argue with such high-mindedness?

But Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute and Dan Becker of the Sierra Club called the bill: "a 1,700-page legislative abomination . . . designed to further rig the market to favor well-connected energy producers almost all of which already enjoy plenty of federal handouts at the expense of others."

Could they be talking about the same thing? You bet. The much ballyhooed energy bill gives about $6 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industries, $9 billion to the coal industry, and $12 billion to the nuclear-power industry. And another round of mish-mash amendments is currently in the works.

Many of the provisions of the bill, like subsidies to expense costs of refinery-capacity increases, are scandalous for an industry that already has record prices for oil and gasoline - and record profits by refiners. Their profits, not taxpayer handouts, should be paying to increase refinery capacity.

There are multitudinous similar tax breaks for the coal and nuclear-energy industries, such as handouts for research in sequestering carbon-dioxide emissions from coal plants and for nuclear-energy research and development. This sounds well and good, but why are we paying for it? Research and development are typically funded from corporate profits.

How did all this government largess come about? The millions and millions in campaign contributions from big energy to both political parties - $115 million alone in the four years preceding the energy bill - may have had something to do with it. Many of the handouts are direct payments to pet projects of various politicians and their cohorts, specifically written to benefit a particular corporation.

And this is nothing new. These massive taxpayer subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry have been going on for nearly a century, some as far back as 1916. Think about your hard-earned dollars being forked over to perennial fat cats next time you make out your Form 1040.

Where does clean, renewable wind energy come into this grandiose scheme? You'd have to look long and hard into the bill to spot something. This is especially astounding since wind energy will eventually rescue us from our obsequiousness to the duplicitous purveyors of foreign oil and will displace millions of tons of carbon dioxide that our fossil-fuel-burning plants are discharging daily into the atmosphere.

There is a 1.9-cent production tax credit for each kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity. That is wind-power's primary federally based incentive, not the billions of taxpayer dollars that are being poured into oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy for as many reasons as there are politicians or pages in the 1,700-page bill.

Wind power even eliminates the excuse for most of these financial "incentives," because wind is basically free. So why the cries against it by the rich and infamous and the demonizing of those who support it? Because wind power has the potential to replace all other forms of energy in the Middle-Atlantic states, including fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and it will even provide the electricity required to "fill up" your electric car.

Wind power coming to America is anathema to big energy. Is it surprising that the well-heeled Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, created specifically to oppose the Cape Wind farm, boasts among its directors a coal, oil and gas magnate and a Marathon Oil board member?

This brings to mind Marcellus's famous line from Hamlet, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." But I've been to Denmark, specifically to inspect their offshore wind farms. Denmark is now generating almost 40 percent of its electricity from wind; the United States less than 2 percent.

Nothing is rotten in Denmark. But plenty is rotten in the United States. And the smell comes from the fat cats and lackeys of big energy. When I worked for a huge corporation, we used to say, "There's enough business to go around for everyone." The big energy boys apparently don't agree. They want it all - and your taxpayer dollars as well.

The irony is that they will eventually lose it all. They would do well to start investing in wind energy instead of fighting it.

Solon Economou, a frequent contributor, is an engineer and Cape Cod-based writer (

© 2007 The Providence Journal

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