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Wind Industry Looks to Karl Rove for Answers

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Republican strategist Karl Rove sits downs with Obama's former press secretary Robert Gibbs for a conversation about politics and, and, …. wind energy?

Luckily for those of us who follow the ups and downs of renewable energy — and especially for those of us who follow the bumps and bruises of politics — that conversation won’t be for their ears only. In a sense, we’re all invited. The two will share the stage at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference and exhibition in Atlanta on June 5.

Rove famously engineered George W. Bush’s rise to the presidency, and since then he’s remained a strong voice for conservatism. Only now, he’s making his mark as a television personality, a founder of Super-PAC American Crossroads GPS, and apparently, as someone who will give those in attendance an honest indication of where the industry will land after the whipping winds of election year politics finally die down.

The industry has yet to make any real headway in its effort to extend the Production Tax Credit beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of the year. Conventional wisdom holds that there’s little hope for the PTC to be added to legislation prior to Election Day. That would mean that any deal would come no earlier than late November. Only by then, many of the companies that have chosen to invest in the American wind market could conceivably have already shut down operations in search of more reliable markets. Companies like Vestas have already indicated that they’ll pick up stakes if nothing is done. That move alone would cost about 1,600 jobs. And other giants, like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, are scrapping plans to set up shop in the U.S. The wind industry could come to a relative standstill, and that would almost certainly benefit the natural gas industry.

So this is where the political dilemma — or call it the need for common ground — kicks in. Extending subsidies is a political nonstarter by today’s political calculation. But such a move has a cost, and it hits the Republican Party squarely where it needs to be strongest. The GOP’s winning formula for the November elections and beyond is built on creating jobs and achieving energy independence. These are the areas in which Crossroads GPS has been hitting Obama especially hard.

It’ll be interesting to see how wind plays into this strategy. It obviously does little to strengthen independence since it competes mostly with coal and natural gas. But it has jobs — lots of them. And many of those jobs would readily disappear. It also has some respected Republican support from longtime legislators like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Of course, the Republican Party also has its share of very loud wind critics, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee political icon and a former presidential candidate who scorns at the use of subsidies to bolster what he has termed “Big Wind.”

Rove is by nature a strategist, and a historically clever one at that. We’ll all be watching intently to see how he shapes this conversation, and how he manages his party's stark differences within this debate. His position may go a long way toward giving us a better understanding how this political drama will play out.

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