SustainAbility: Tax subsidies


January Presentations

January is going out with a flurry of activity. Clear your calendar for Monday evening.

Beginning at 4 p.m., the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Western Area Power Administration will sponsor an open house in Central High School’s library.

You can learn about the proposed TransWest Express Transmission Project that would bring renewable energy produced in central Wyoming to the desert Southwest.

The high-voltage direct current system would cross counties in four states including Colorado. This public scoping process will last until 7 p.m.

For information about the project, go to

Then you can scurry over to the lower level conference room at Community Hospital for the League of Women Voters meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

Jon Prater will give a presentation about converting grass and cactus into biofuels.

Prater is the coordinator of a biofuels project at Colorado Mountain College.

For information, call Kay Klausmeier at 241-7575.

I have been watching with interest a recent flurry of letters printed in this paper debating the use of our tax dollars to prop up the renewable energy industry.

In one letter Randy Litwiller of Crawford wrote, “Renewable energy funds or incentives are a nice way to say renewable energy is a subsidized industry. Without this funding, the industry cannot survive.”

Another letter gave an example close to home. “Palisade Pharmacy’s solar-powered installation cost $70,000, and the article (from the Jan. 9 Daily Sentinel) states it will pay for itself in four years.

However, two-thirds of the cost was subsidized by government. Without that, actually, it would take 12 years for the operation to become cost-effective,” wrote Hans Croeber.

These letters got me thinking about other energy subsidies.

Then in the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama addressed subsidies.

“I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own,” he said.

Halliburton certainly seems to be doing fine since the company doubled its profits in the last quarter of 2010.

Perhaps some of the letter writers forgot the degree to which the fossil fuel industries have been and are still subsidized.

Historically, subsidies have been used in many industries to encourage exploration and development of new technologies. That was the reason for state subsidies of the fledgling oil industry when the first wells were drilled back in the mid-1800s.

The Tariff Act of 1913 brought the federal government in on the action setting up generous tax deductions for the industry.

Now, according to a 2010 New York Times article, “Oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.”

The United States ranks first in providing aid to the global oil industry to the tune of at least $4 billion per year in subsidies.

Palisade resident Anthony Huff wrote about this in a letter responding to Croeber. “Renewable energies like solar and wind have a right to a fair playing field. While solar systems do get a 30 percent federal tax credit, the myriad subsidies given to the coal and gas industries far outweigh what is given to renewable energy.”

Here is one solution: “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

Thanks, Mr. President. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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