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Candidates split on wind power tax credit

In this Sept. 12 photo, wind turbines are silhouetted in the morning sun near Brookston, Ind. Indiana's once-booming wind power industry is facing an uncertain future as Congress debates whether to renew a tax credit that's set to expire late this year. (AP Photo by Michael Heinz/Journal & Courier)

GRAND FORKS -- The Democratic candidate for North Dakota's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is using a subsidy for wind power to distinguish herself from her opponent.

"My opponent is on the wrong side of the issue," said Pam Gulleson, referring to her rival, Kevin Cramer, on Friday.

The federal production tax credit gives a 2-cent credit to energy producers for every kilowatt hour of renewable energy produced, and it is scheduled to expire at the end of 2013 unless Congress renews it.

Uncertainty over its future was blamed by LM Wind Power in the company's announcement Wednesday that it was laying off more than 300 workers in Grand Forks. Minnesota's Otter Tail Corp. also cited the pending expiration in its decision to sell off its wind tower production business, DMI Industries. A Texas company has since purchased DMI's West Fargo production facility, but has not explained what will happen to the plant's 216 jobs.

According to Gulleson, an extension of the tax credit would have provided certainty to manufacturers that demand for blades and towers would continue.

"People are losing their jobs because Congress failed to extend the Production Tax Credit," Gulleson said. "These are really important jobs. They are strong jobs."

The tax credit has bipartisan support among North Dakota politicians, but not universal, with Cramer opposing, citing the need for fiscal responsibility.

"I've been pretty clear that I don't intend to support extension of the tax credit," Cramer said Friday.

He said Congress in 2007 passed a five-year extension for the credit, which was created in 1992, and made it clear to the industry that its 2013 expiration would be final. The industry has had strong growth since the last extension, which he supported, but it has not prepared to function without the support.

Cramer acknowledges the job losses linked to the expiration but said North Dakota's economy is strong enough to absorb them. The national debt should be a bigger concern than support for the wind industry, he said.

"Is that really the appropriate role for our government, to subsidize jobs when we have a $16 trillion debt?" he said.

Cramer's stance diverges from other North Dakota politicians. Current House member Rick Berg, R-N.D., has co-sponsored a bill that would extend the credit through 2016. Berg's opponent for the U.S. Senate, Heidi Heitkamp, also supports an extension.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also favors a two- or four-year extension to give it time to become self-sustaining, said spokesman Don Canton.

Gulleson said Cramer's opposition put him closer to the "extreme arm" of the Republicans in Congress than to other North Dakota politicians.

"They don't see (wind) as part of our energy future," Gulleson said. Renewing the credit "should be some of the first work of the new Congress," she said.