Renewable Energy Trade Associations Call for Federal Action on RES, Hope for Big 2010

On Tuesday, executives from the leading renewable energy trade associations emphasized the need for Congress to swiftly enact key policies to continue accelerated growth across the entire sector in order to add jobs and boost economic growth in 2010.

Executives from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), National Hydropower Association (NHA), Biomass Power Association (BPA), Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) stressed that if these policies are not enacted, the renewable energy sector could face a downturn in investment and jobs in 2010.

The renewable energy leaders called for Congress to pass a strong national renewable energy standard (RES) with clear near- and long-term goals, along with expansion and extension of credit incentives, and comprehensive legislation.

A major new study released last week by Navigant Consulting Inc. reveals that a 25% by 2025 national RES would result in 274,000 more renewable energy jobs than a no-national RES policy scenario.

The wind industry enjoyed a particularly good 2009, defying the expectations of many analysts to be one of the top two energy generation technologies installed in the U.S. last year. The industry has, however, seen a drop in manufacturing investment that while slowly returning would greatly benefit from strong national RES.

“The RES is the best way to provide the certainty that companies need to expand wind manufacturing nationwide,” said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA. “The importance of building a strong renewable energy manufacturing base in the U.S. cannot be overstated. The U.S. has a historic opportunity to fortify the clean energy economy but is committing unilateral economic disarmament by not giving itself the policy tools to do so.”

The biomass industry is in dire straits in the current economy. Bioenergy projects, even more so than wind and solar, require long lead times and are capital intensive, like other central station generation technologies. Lack of tax equity financing and a general slowdown in the capital markets in the last 18 months, combined with Congressional inaction when it came time to extend bioenergy tax credits have left the industry in a difficult position.

“Thousands of jobs in the biomass power industry could be lost if Congress fails to extend the production tax credit for biomass power that recently expired late last year. These tax credits are literally the life-line to many biomass power facilities that provide long-term high paying jobs in rural areas currently facing unemployment levels as high as 15 percent,” said Robert Cleaves, president of the BPA. “Congress should support all American sources of renewable energy by renewing the production tax credit for biomass power and passing an aggressive national renewable electricity standard.”

On the other hand, the geothermal industry had a good 2009 in spite of the economy, enjoying renewed funding from the federal government and increased interest from the utility and private sector in the face of pending carbon legislation. According to GEA’s executive director Karl Gawell, the industry’s performance in 2009 was a testament to the actions of the federal government.

“This year Congress enacted stimulus legislation with a historic group of incentives supporting geothermal and other renewable technologies. Now in its 2011 budget, the Administration proposed additional measures, including ramping up incentives for the domestic manufacturing capacity needed to supply a growing geothermal power industry. The keys to sustain this growth will be adopting longer-term measures to support an increase in both new projects and the manufacturing and supply infrastructure. That means extending the stimulus bill’s tax incentives through 2016, adopting a strong renewable electricity standard, and other measures to keep the U.S. a leader in geothermal energy,” said Karl Gawell, Executive Director, GEA.

For the solar industry, 2010 will be all about keeping the momentum going. With tax credits for solar extended through 2016 and more and more domestic manufacturing capacity coming on line every month, 2010 could be the year that the U.S. hits 1 gigawatt of solar photovoltaics installed and sees a big jump in solar thermal capacity installed as well.

“One of the fastest ways to create jobs in America is to invest in clean energy,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “These are quality jobs and they can’t be outsourced. From plumbers to electricians to construction workers, the solar industry created nearly 20,000 jobs last year with the support of the stimulus bill. We proved that we can create much-needed job growth now with the right policies in place. But we can only keep up that momentum if Congress enacts a jobs bill that promotes deployment of solar and other clean energy technologies.”

With the possibility of carbon cap and trade legislation looming, hydropower has also seen increased interest as base-load renewable energy technology. In 2009 hydropower stations across the U.S. were upgraded and rehabilitated. NHA’s Linda Church Ciocci said that strong federal RES policy will only help grow the industry even more.

“Policy matters in tapping hydropower’s tremendous growth potential in every state, which will lead to the creation of well-paying, family-supporting jobs,” said Linda Church Ciocci, Executive Director, NHA. “We need a strong RES, tax incentives and other support policy if we are to double hydropower’s contribution to America’s energy portfolio.”

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Former Editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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