Wind farm that got $107M under stimulus act generates controversy in Missouri’s US Senate race

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wind farm generates controversy in Mo. Senate race

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Fertilized with federal stimulus money, 100 new wind turbines have cropped up among the soybean fields of northwest Missouri, and they’re generating some high-voltage sparks in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race.

That’s because the Lost Creek Wind Farm, which received $107 million in stimulus money, was developed by a company run by Tom Carnahan — the younger brother of Democratic Senate candidate Robin Carnahan and U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.

Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the project during a visit to Missouri in April 2009. Two weeks ago, the White House included it on a list of “100 Recovery Act Projects Changing America.”

Since then, the wind farm has generated a steady breeze of criticism for Republicans.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith claimed the Carnahans “used their power and influence to bail out their own brother with more than $100 million in taxpayer dollars.”

This week, Robin Carnahan’s Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, began airing a TV ad showing Robin and Russ Carnahan, the two candidates, standing in front of a wind farm. The ad accuses Robin Carnahan of campaigning for the stimulus act and claims Tom Carnahan “lobbied for his special deal.”

The Carnahans deny their family connections played a role in the federal renewable energy grant. Russ Carnahan voted for the stimulus act, and Robin Carnahan — who is secretary of state — has said she supports it. But the Carnahans say no one asked the Obama administration for money for the Lost Creek Wind Farm, nor would have that been necessary.

The federal government has long provided tax credits for investors and producers of renewable energy. The 2009 economic stimulus act expanded that by giving them the option of cash payments instead of tax credits for wind-energy projects completed in 2009 or 2010. More than 1,100 projects nationwide qualified for the program, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

“There is no discretionary authority from the Treasury Department,” agency spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom said Friday. “We’ve got pretty rigorous application criteria. If you meet those criteria, we have to fund your project in 60 days.”

The Lost Creek Wind Farm, completed in May at a cost of more than $340 million, is the largest wind farm in Missouri. It’s one of five sites developed by Wind Capital Group, which Tom Carnahan founded in 2005. The company says its Missouri facility generates enough electricity to supply more than 100,000 homes; its power is sold to rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities.

As part of her Senate campaign, Robin Carnahan has stressed the importance of developing more renewable energy and diminishing the nation’s reliance on oil.

“I’m not going to do anything that’s going to be a special benefit to my brother or anybody in my family — that would be inappropriate,” Carnahan said when asked about a potential conflict of interest because of her brother’s business.

“But that’s not to say I’m going to walk away from any kind of renewable energy projects — I think that would be crazy as well,” Carnahan said.

A spokeswoman for Russ Carnahan’s campaign said Friday that the congressman played no role in the federal incentives for his brother’s wind farm.

“Over 1,100 companies qualified for this program, and the only thing they have in common is that Russ Carnahan has nothing to do with any of them,” spokeswoman Angela Guyadeen said.

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