Where’s The Outrage?

Solar energy is being manipulated as part of the partisan bickering in Congress. The Senate has passed one version of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) extension with an overwhelming bi-partisan, majority. However, the House leadership will not even let the bill come to a vote. This is an election year. I believe all of the House of Representatives are up for election. If we, as solar professionals, cannot get the ITC extension through now, then when can we? The importance of the solar ITC extension and the cost to do nothing is not enough a part of the political dialogue. It has probably already cost the United States thousands of jobs and $10’s of millions of investment. Where is Congress going to get these jobs back in our already declining economy? Solar and other renewables, in fact energy as a whole, are too important to be a partisan football. Can we even wake up Congress? Let’s all work together on this.

Why is the ITC important? Solar and other renewables are fast growing industries worldwide. In the United States, commercial grid-connected solar has averaged 40% growth over the last six years.

We are not just solar industry professionals, we are also voters. This country is about to lose large chunks of employment in the automobile manufacturing sector and, most recently, in the investment sector. Why doesn’t Congress understand that passing the ITC extension will help create 10’s of thousands of permanent jobs and spark billions of dollars in investment in the United States? If we do not get the ITC extended, which as of this writing we have not, this country will lose jobs where it does not need to. This will be Congress’ fault alone.

Here are just a few of the words we see in written up about this situation:

In an article, “Wind, solar energy built on temporary tax breaks,”  the Associated Press reports, “Congress is putting the short-term future of renewable energy companies in jeopardy even as the presidential candidates and most lawmakers hail windmills, solar panels and biofuels as long term solutions to high gasoline prices and global warming.”

On August 29, The Miami Herald, reported that, “Congress is poised to either stimulate further development of solar energy or stymie this potential growth. A 30 percent solar investment tax credit (ITC) will sunset at the end of 2008, and, without an extension, the promise of solar-powered investment to jump-start the Florida economy becomes less certain.”

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) hired Navigant Consulting to do a study about the impacts that a non-renewal of renewable energy tax credits by the U.S. Congress would have. Here’s what they found: Over 116,000 U.S. jobs and nearly US $19 billion in U.S. investment could be lost in just one year. Approximately 76,000 jobs are at risk in the wind industry and approximately 40,000 in the solar industry. The states that could lose the most jobs include: Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and California. The lion’s share of these states could lose more than 1,000 jobs.

Let Congress know we are watching and that we intend to hold them accountable for the possible upheaval of the solar industry that is completely avoidable.

The answer to the energy crisis is not just wind. Possibly, in the future, it might be wind and storage, but not now. Wind is not always available when we need energy. In fact, our energy needs and supplies are complex, as will be the most sensible solution. It is not just wind, it is not just solar, and it is not just hydro or any other single choice. The reality is most of our energy comes from coal. We need to continue to clean that source up and make mining it safer.

The U.S. is energy dependent. The current sources include coal, gas, oil, nuclear and a variety of renewables. We need to clean up all the sources of energy and have an orderly transition to a mix that makes sense. What we do not need is a knee jerk plan or big plans that are unrealistic, simply because it’s an energy source that “my company provides”. Grow renewables at a planned sensible rate with the assistance of an extension of the ITC for renewables.

Congress has an important role to play. I suggest they play it, or we, the voters need to replace them with people who will.

Tom Currie is an entrepreneur and currently the Vice President and co founder of Solar Sentry Corp.  Solar Sentry is developing diagnostics for commercial scale solar photovoltaic installations.  Mr. Currie has 20 years experience as a telecommunications consultant, 10 of which were with KPMG.  He was involved with telecommunications CPE and networks, as well as, deregulation, both in the US and Canada.

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