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Alternative energy noticeably absent from 2012 campaign

Although legacy industries like oil and natural gas have gotten the expected attention during this election cycle, often left out of the national conversation has been talk of alternative energy — once a key part of President Obama’s platform in 2008.

This pattern of omission changed to some small degree during the first presidential debate on Wednesday, when renewables received a few mentions as the candidates sparred on a number of domestic policy issues.

Notably, Obama said:

On energy, Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we’ve got to boost American energy production, and oil and natural gas production are higher than they’ve been in years. But I also believe that we’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.

Romney seized on Obama’s promise for further investment by noting what he sees as the administration’s failings on subsidies for alternative energy:

But don’t forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of [tax] breaks, into — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right? So this — this is not — this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.

Obama’s current platform calls for continued diversification of our nation’s energy portfolio. Governor Romney’s strategy, “Plan For A Stronger Middle Class,” focuses primarily on efficiency, with an emphasis on streamlined processes for permitting and less regulatory gridlock.

As part of Need to Know’s series looking at the economic truths on Main Streets across the country, we traveled to Pueblo, Colorado — in part, because the city remains a key player in the nation’s burgeoning wind energy market.

Yet despite the state’s advances in wind energy since Obama took office, the Denver Post reported in August that Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest wind-turbine maker, would be cutting almost 90 jobs from its Pueblo factory. The company said the layoffs were unavoidable in anticipation of the year’s end, when federal wind production tax credits are poised to expire.

The President has favored an extension of these credits, without which the American Wind Energy Association has said the industry may lose 37,000 jobs.

In Iowa — another major player in the American wind energy market — Romney campaign spokesman Shawn McCoy told the Des Moines Register that a Romney administration would not renew the subsidies to the wind industry.

“[Mr. Romney] will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits,” he said.

We want to know your thoughts. Should the federal government do more to support renewable energy in the coming years through tax credits and subsidies? Or should Washington stay out of the alternative energy game and let this growing industry make it on its own?

Sound off in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.