California's renewable-energy plans may hinge on presidential race

SACRAMENTO — On 7,300 isolated acres in eastern Kern County, a plan for dozens of wind turbines 20 stories high to generate enough electricity for tens of thousands of homes may hinge on who is elected president.

Millions of dollars have been spent laying the groundwork. Permits are in order, contractors are lined up, government planners are on board. But like many other green energy efforts in California, the Avalon Wind Project awaits the fate of key federal subsidies.

For Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, such aid represents government run amok, allowing bureaucrats to pick winners and losers in renewable energy rather than letting the free market sort them out. Romney has not offered many specifics about what he would cut, but his opposition in general to aid for alternative energy production has been a pillar of his campaign. The candidate punctuated his point with a news conference at the vacant former headquarters of bankrupt solar company Solyndra, which lost $527 million in government money.

Mark Tholke, a vice president at EDF Renewable Energy, the company behind Avalon, is troubled by Romney's talk of jettisoning incentives like the 20-year-old tax credit that would enable his firm to put shovel to ground. About a third of Avalon's construction costs would be covered by the credit, amounting to many millions of dollars.

"The impact would be devastating," he said. "The number of wind projects we would build would just plummet."

The prospect of a Romney victory in November is a source of consternation among players large and small in California's rapidly growing renewable-energy industry. Experts differ on whether subsidies are the most sensible way to move toward cleaner energy and whether they are a good deal for taxpayers.

But there is wide agreement that no state has used federal help more aggressively than California and that a sudden shift in direction by the White House would stymie the state's progress.



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