Bioenergy, Geothermal, Hydropower, Project Development, Solar, Wind Power

Does the Passage of a Stripped-Down Energy Bill Mean Momentum is Lost for Renewables?

Congress approved an energy bill that was sorely lacking in crucial renewable energy elements such as the production tax credit and a renewable electricity standard. What’s next for these important policies? Might they still get enacted? –William T., Boston, Massachusetts

It’s true that the news coming out of Congress has not been great the last couple of weeks if you’re a renewable-energy advocate, but there are some key positives that came out of the experience. For one, a renewable electricity standard (RES) went further along in the process than it ever has before, with the House of Representatives recently passing energy legislation that included a 15% RES, along with a four-year production tax credit (PTC) and a new small-turbine tax credit. Although the Senate later blocked the bill, that’s nevertheless a clear indication of the gathering momentum in terms of the public demand for renewable energy.

Then on December 13, a hard-fought battle to keep in the Senate energy bill a tax title that included a two-year PTC extension as well as a small-wind credit fell just one vote short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Late that evening, the Senate approved the stripped-down version of the energy bill, which also lacked an RES, sending it to the House of Representatives, which passed the bill on December 18. President Bush, who had indicated he would veto any legislation containing an RES or the tax title that included the PTC, is expected to sign the bill today, December 19th.

So do these events mean momentum is lost on these all-important issues?

Not at all. In fact, momentum for an RES and a full-value, long-term PTC continues to build, even as politics put a speed bump in their path for the near-term. Almost the moment the Senate voted to remove the tax title containing the PTC, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made clear that he and the Senate would return to the issue in 2008.

“If President Bush thinks we’ll stop fighting to end Big Oil giveaways-so that we can invest more in clean-energy innovation-he is mistaken,” said Reid. “And if Senate Republicans think this is the last they’ll hear of the renewable electricity standard, they are mistaken, too. Republicans may have blocked these priorities for now, but the drumbeat for change is far too loud and far too strong for them to keep blocking much longer.”

That drumbeat to which Reid was referring is the voice of the public. Survey after survey shows that Americans support the enactment of policy that will provide them with clean, renewable energy. It should come as no surprise, then, that other members of Congress have said they expected the issues to return as well. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), for one, told reporters he would push for renewables legislation in 2008. So while politics, unfortunately, certainly can prove victorious in a near-term battle, public sentiment will inevitably demand further attention to what matters most in their eyes.

For their part, meanwhile, the American Wind Energy Association and other renewables advocates also are well aware that the time is still right for meaningful legislation to be passed on these issues. “Today’s vote is out of step with Americans across the political spectrum who overwhelmingly support clean, home-grown renewable energy,” noted AWEA Senior Director of Governmental and Public Affairs Gregory Wetstone, in a statement following the December 13 vote. “Wind and solar power can lower home energy bills, strengthen our energy security, create new manufacturing jobs and, perhaps most importantly, reduce global warming pollution even as we meet growing electricity demand. We will continue to work with Congressional leaders on these vital issues, and are confident that we will secure enactment of the tax incentives and other policies that Americans need and want to put our nation on the path to a clean and secure energy future.”

So a full-value, long-term PTC extension and an RES remain very much in play as renewable energy advocates, and the vast majority of the American public, look to decision makers – many of whom are friends of renewables in the first place – to act on these important issues.

And so the battle in Congress is not over. In fact, now is a good time to let your Congressional representatives know about your support for renewable energy. Click here to see how your Senators voted. If they supported the legislation, thank them; if they did not, express your disappointment in their vote. Your action today may go a long way when legislation comes up the next time around.