Gleanings from Solar Nation: Washington Update

These are critical times for our energy future in Washington. Earlier this year the House and Senate passed their own versions of an energy bill, with as many differences from each other as points of similarities. With Congress now back in session, we can expect serious work to be done on producing a bill acceptable to both houses.

Solar Nation hears that Senate Majority Leader Reid is carrying out informal conference proceedings with House members to produce such a bill this Fall. The informal approach avoids, or at least minimizes, the danger of Republican amendments that would almost certainly have bogged the legislation down if Reid had chosen to bring a ‘combined’ bill to the Senate floor.

It also eliminates the risk, inherent in the formal conference procedure, of Republicans attempting to block the appointment of conferees. Both Reid and Speaker Pelosi want energy legislation passed this year that contains funding provisions (currently not part of the senate bill).

House (HR 3221) and Senate (HR6) Bills
Some key points of, and differences between, the two versions of the Energy Bill from the Solar standpoint are:

• Investment tax credits (ITC) for businesses extended for eight years at 30% (both versions).
• Residential ITC extended for six years (senate only).
o Corporate and individual taxpayers can claim ITC against Alternative Minimum Tax (house only).
• Investor-owned Utilities permitted to claim the ITC for solar investments (both versions).
• $2000 cap on Section 25D residential solar ITCs eliminated (senate version does not eliminate, but doubles cap to $4000 and extends ITC for six years).
• Utilities required to obtain 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020, 4% of which can be satisfied with electricity efficiency measures. This does not pre-empt state RPS requirements. The measure incorporates both PV and solar thermal technologies (house only).
• 25-year federal power purchase agreements for solar energy authorized (House only).
• Bureau of Land Management instructed to identify lands capable of supporting solar energy development projects of up to 25 GW (house only).
o Bureau of Reclamation instructed to evaluate lands suitable for solar energy developments projects (House only).

The Man Behind the Curtain
Discussions of whether residential caps should be $2000, $4000 or infinity, and of whether a national RPS should be 15% or 20% become moot when one contemplates the retrograde attitude of the Bush administration. The President has threatened to veto any bill coming out of Congress looking remotely like those that have already passed the two chambers.

According to the White House, this is because the bills do not deliver energy security to American consumers or businesses, although it is difficult to see how a bill that pushes this country away from dependence on oil and pulls us closer to domestically produced renewable power does not improve our security and energy independence.

The real reason, some say, is connected to the President’s unwillingness to approve tax increases on the oil and gas industry, but with daily reminders from around the world of the increasing dangers of global warming, can this be reason enough to obstruct the first serious federal legislation to attempt mitigation? Solar Nation believes the time for conducting ‘business as usual’ is well past. The oil and gas industry is mature enough not to need the vast majority of the tax breaks and assistance it gets from our Government, and the nascent renewable energy industry should expect to be supported at least as well.

To pretend that our clean energy needs are secondary in importance to the balance sheets of fossil fuel companies is to keep one foot in the camp of global warming deniers. And the time for that is well past, too.

As the energy legislation makes its way from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue, Solar Nation will keep its members—our solar citizens—abreast of developments, especially when we need to make sure that representatives, senators and the Chief Executive hear from all of us on the importance of securing our energy future.

RPS’ a Mixed Bag
With Ohio Governor Strickland proposing a renewable energy portfolio for his state last month that includes a 25% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by the year 2025, there are now more states (26, as well as the District of Columbia) that have mandatory RPSs either proposed or in the statute books than do not. Add Missouri, Vermont and Virginia, which have set voluntary goals for renewables, to this figure and one could view with optimism the chance that even the Federal Government might enact an RPS bill before all the states beat them to it.

It should, of course, have been the other way around. Good federal leadership would have produced by now a workable national RPS that the states could have lined up behind, instead of the right thing happening from the bottom up. All we can do for now is keep one set of fingers crossed that the House-proposed RPS of 15% by 2020 remains intact in the final Congressional Energy Bill this year, and another set crossed that President Bush backs off from his promise of vetoing it.

Solar Nation will be working closely with its partners at state level to monitor the progress of state and regional RPS legislation in the near future. And, of course, helping to nudge that legislation forward wherever we can.

Chris Stimpson is the executive campaigner and activist for the Solar Nation advocacy group solar-nation.org. Solar Nation is the nationwide campaign where citizens rally and convince their leaders to make America a true Solar Power. As the locus of grassroots American activism in support of legislation and regulation of solar energy issues, Solar Nation seeks to positively affect state and federal policy, enabling solar power to become a significant part of America’s energy future. Visit or join Solar Nation at www.solar-nation.org.

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