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By Will Oremus
There is plenty to dislike about the last-minute fiscal-cliff deal that Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hashed out. But the technology and energy provisions are bright spots.
The deal, passed by the House on Tuesday, extends the research-and-development tax credit through 2013, helping to preserve the jobs of high-skill researchers working on tomorrow's technologies and scientific advances. As Obama said in his remarks Tuesday night, "We can't keep cutting things like basic research and new technology and still expect to succeed in a 21st century economy."
Likewise, the deal will preserve for at least one more year the wind energy production tax credit, staving off cuts that would have severely undermined the nation's fastest-growing energy source. In fact, as Reuters points out, much damage has already been done merely by last year's controversy over the tax credit's future.
Despite a record year in which wind power contributed more new capacity to America's domestic energy mix than any other source, including natural gas, political uncertainty prompted layoffs at major manufacturers in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Iowa. (Mitt Romney may have appreciated wind jobs in Iowa, but he wasn't about to preserve them.)
Still, the one-year extension will prevent far deeper job losses, with a trade group estimating that it will save some 37,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2013 alone.
As those figures suggest, wind power is no longer an insignificant bit player on the nation's energy scene. The Department of Energy estimates that it has the potential to supply as much as 20 percent of the country's electricity by 2030.
Now the trick is to build lasting policies for the future.
The industry has asked for the credit to be phased out over five years beginning in 2014, which seems reasonable.