Bioenergy, Geothermal

Renewables Making Progress on Capitol Hill

Although federal energy legislation will probably not pass this year, the high number of bills addressing renewable energy in Congress indicates the maturation and growing popularity of renewables, according to various experts in the renewable energy industries.

Both partial and comprehensive energy bills supporting the solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, geothermal and oceanic energy industries have been introduced in the House and Senate. Many of them add to provisions created in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which was seen as an important step for renewables. There are lots of key policy changes and tax extensions on the table. But no one is getting too excited about energy legislation passing in 2006. It is an election year, so Congress will adjourn sooner than usual. Also, lawmakers are debating other hot button issues such as the Iraq War, immigration reform and the legal status of Guantanamo detainees. “There was a lot of talk this year about passing an energy bill. But when Congress came back from summer recess, they looked at the number of days left on the calendar and decided to back away,” said Karl Gawell, Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association. That hasn’t stopped the various renewable energy industries from lobbying hard on Capitol Hill. Many representatives are confident that Congress will take on some of the important issues next year. And that, they said, is a sign that renewable energy is making headway on a national level. Bill Holmberg, Chairman of the Biomass Coordinating Council, is confident that lawmakers are taking notice of renewables. “Bipartisan support for renewable energy is increasing. It’s not as strong as it ought to be, but support is increasing and I think you will see some serious progress in the coming years,” he said. Indeed, bipartisan support is needed for the continued growth of renewable energy. Along with crafting a national Renewables Portfolio Standard, the most pressing issues for each industry this year and next are: Solar: — Extension and expansion of the federal solar tax credits, which expire in December of 2007. — Prohibit homeowners associations from restricting installment of solar energy systems. — Cap licensing fees for residential and commercial solar installations. Wind: — Long term extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which expires in December of 2007. — Create a 30% tax credit for small wind systems 75 kilowatts or below. Biofuels/Biomass: — Extension of the Volumetric Ethanol Excised Tax Credit (VTEC), which expires in December of 2007. — More funds for grant and loan guarantee programs that encourage the development of biomass and biofuel technologies. Geothermal: — Extension of the PTC, which expires in January of 2008. — Funding for a Department of Energy geothermal research program. Oceanic: — Loan guarantee programs for the continued development of wave and tidal power technologies. — Appropriation of revenue from offshore oil and natural gas drilling projects to wave and tidal projects. — Creation of a PTC to encourage investment in ocean renewables. Congressional action is key to breaking down the many barriers that still stand in front of renewable energy. However, it looks as though nothing will happen by the start of campaign season in October. But Gawell is optimistic about the prospects for next year. “I think most of the people in leadership roles in Congress have a really good understanding that our nation’s energy problems are going to take some major efforts to resolve,” he said. “So when Congress returns next year, are we going to be back looking at an energy bill? You bet.”