Election Sets Stage for Geothermal Business in the Lame Duck Session

The 2014 elections mark a return to election politics characterized by winning from the middle. This is a departure from recent years where campaigns seemed dominated by ideological extremes. As a result, the call in the air today seems to be for a Congress that can get down to business. How that transpires into Washington’s version of political reality will be tested as Congress returns for a lame duck session starting November 12.

Perhaps this will mean that legislation bottled up in Congress related to geothermal energy will move forward. From extension of the renewable tax credits to leasing and permitting reforms, there are several pieces of legislation that the geothermal industry should be watching in the coming lame duck session.

The Congress needs to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running past December 11, and the industry needs to watch that play out with an eye toward possible funding impacts for geothermal programs at the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Land Management or other federal agencies.

It is likely that legislators and the media will focus the most attention around the EXPIRE Act, S. 2260. This is a bipartisan tax extender package pending in the Senate. It amends the Internal Revenue Code to extend through 2015 expiring tax provisions pertaining to individual and business taxpayers and the energy sector, including the tax credit for new geothermal projects. While there is considerable uncertainty about its fate, many Washington experts think it will move forward as a prelude to more significant tax reform work from Congress over the next two years. A good number of Senate offices have expressed support for the legislation, and some express the caveat that it will be the last extenders package, so groups whose interests are tied to time-limited tax provisions need to engage in tax reform discussions in 2015 and 2016.

Meanwhile, at least two other measures are also on the horizon. Both measures have been favorably reported by the House Resources Committee and await further action. They are:

H.R. 2004 (Simpson), To expand geothermal production, and for other purposes. “Geothermal Production Expansion Act of 2013.” H.R. 2004 is a mirror image of legislation in the Senate, S. 363, sponsored by Senator Wyden and co-sponsored by Senator Murkowski. S. 363 was passed by the Senate in July and the House Resources Committee reported it favorably in September.

The other is H.R. 1363 (Labrador), To promote timely exploration for geothermal resources under existing geothermal leases, and for other purposes. “Exploring for Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands Act.” H.R. 1363 was reported favorably by the House Resources Committee in September. There is no Senate counterpart, but there has been legislation introduced addressing the same issue — the need for aiding geothermal exploration. Senator Tester also introduced legislation, S.362, the Geothermal Exploration and Technology Act.

Action on S.363/HR 2004 is possible, but whether Congress will also try to move forward pieces of the other pending geothermal bills is uncertain at best.

This article was originally published on the GEA’s weekly GeoEnergy Wire and was republished with permission.

Lead image: U.S. Capitol via Shutterstock

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Karl has been the Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association since 1997. He was formerly Director of Government Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association and has held senior positions at the National Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society. He worked in several positions in the U.S. Congress, including Associate Staff of the House Appropriations Committee and Legislative Assistant to Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn).

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