In a bizarre twist to the wrangling over the Senate’s version of the Energy Bill the Senate voted to pass the 2002 Energy bill rather than move forward with the latest version of the 2003 Bill.Washington, DC August 4, 2003[SolarAccess.com] Last week, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) had offered, apparently at least somewhat facetiously, that the Senate simply vote on last year’s Energy Bill. Senator Peter V. Domenici (R-New Mexico), chair of the Senate Energy committee, stunned everyone, including quite possibly Reid, spontaneously accepting the offer by proposing an amendment to the current Energy Bill that struck all of its text and replaced it with the unedited contents of last year’s bill. Party leadership promptly disappeared from the floor to negotiate a solution. During this process, individual Senators who had been initially perceived as possible obstacles periodically showed up on the floor to express that they still had major issues which they would like to see addressed, but that they would be content to see these taken care of in separate legislation later on. Following a roll call vote, the Senate passed last year’s bill by a preliminary count of 83 – 14. “It is impossible to adequately convey just how strange and unforeseen this outcome was”, said Glenn Hamer, Executive Director of SEIA. “While we’re somewhat shocked to see so much of our work over the last few weeks spontaneously combust, we still have made progress – many of the improvements we achieved in proposals to the former Energy Bill will have some validity and bargaining power headed into the House/Senate conference process”. Hamer seemed optimistic, saying that conference committee is a much smaller group of more powerful Senators and Representatives and perhaps easier to communicate with. The Cantwell net metering amendment, which had received much attention of late, was dropped in the form of a second-degree amendment, now rendered irrelevant, as well as a backup standalone bill, which will still be valid and may again be incorporated. Other important provisions may be reincarnated in this fashion as well. The Residential Solar Tax Credit, 15 percent of value up to a $US2,000 cap for PV and solar water heating (SWH), is identical in both bills. The Production Tax Credit, 1.8 cents per kWh for power-plant type transactions, is expanded to solar and is the same in both bills. RPS was not included in this year’s Energy Bill in any form, though it was part of many proposed amendments. According to a release from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), last year’s Senate bill did include an RPS; and although that version had only double credits for onsite generation, it was intended to cover solar water heating technologies with the double credit, provided the language as unamended was first cleaned up. SEIA reported that the latest leading proposal this year offered triple credits The Federal Renewables Purchase Requirement is the same in both bills, although, presently, it no longer now no longer includes double credits for onsite generation (vs., for instance, green tag purchase,) as was negotiated into this year’s provision. Last year’s provision, however, contained an additional provision giving DOE the capability to make grants to other agencies for up to 15 percent of solar project costs, which is good to have back. Lost was a joint agency report documenting the obstacles and credits necessary to increase renewables production on Federal lands. FHA mortgage provision, the provision increasing the cap on Federal Housing Administration mortgage assistance for homes incorporating solar, remains identical. SEIA sees the move a major shift that does not leave us either massively better or worse off than before. But they say that it does make it much more likely that an Energy Bill will emerge from this Congress. SEIA will now have its work to do in conference with previous supporters, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), who came through in the clutch for the industry on the RPS triple credit and SWH issues; Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California,) who worked on ensuring that Federal income tax did not apply to state or utility solar equipment rebates; Senator Wayne Allard (R-Colorado), who worked to raise the cap on the tax credit for small solar; and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who had proposed the net metering and interconnection amendment. SEIA stated that all the aforementioned senators deserve high praise and support from all solar companies; and their support will also not likely be entirely forgotten in conference. Additionally, a SEIA / Stella Associates / Plug Power fuel cells / Solar Access.com legislative alert on the net metering issue produced a massive response, with over 300 companies and dozens of individuals registering their support. This steadily growing document is expected to provide leverage.