Solar Energy: A Washington Perspective

How the Federal government funds renewable programs and whether Congress enacts legislation that provides useful incentives for clean energy technologies are unresolved questions. What is clear is that the marketplace for solar energy will continue to expand in 2003.

RE Outlook 2003 – January 27, 2003 – There’s a general sense of unease now that Republicans are in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the White House. A soaring budget deficit, which makes tax credits and robust appropriations more difficult to achieve, is ominous as well. Nevertheless, the support for Renewable Energy, is increasingly bipartisan. Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) and Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN) as chairs of the Senate and House Renewable Energy Caucuses, respectively, have used their positions well to advance our agenda on a bipartisan basis. Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) sponsored and carried the residential solar energy tax credit through the House of Representatives. Also happily countering these uncertainties is the aggressiveness with which the states, particularly California, are pursuing programs to create a sustainable, grid-connected market for PV. The California consumer rebate program is a model that is proliferating. None of this is to say that all is lost on the federal level. The head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Pat Wood, launched a regulatory proceeding aimed at, in his words, “[to] allow small generators to avoid unnecessary delay caused by interconnection studies and queues established for larger generators and their greater impact on the grid.” Standardizing interconnection arrangements, by itself, is not enough to stimulate a robust PV market, but it is an essential ingredient for one. One day, the renewables world may view Wood much the same way consumers reflect fondly on Harold Greene, the judge who broke the monopoly on telephone service. On the solar hot water side, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) succeeded in convincing negotiators of the federal energy bill to include solar hot water systems in the list of eligible technologies for a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS). While an energy bill is not a sure bet ( even if there is one, an RPS may not be part of it) we feel that our extensive efforts to educate lawmakers and their staffs as to the promise and status of solar technologies has put us on the agenda in a secure, bipartisan fashion. As to concentrating solar technology, another recent report identified this technology as having the potential to provide thousands of megawatts of clean, affordable energy. The Western Governors Association has explicitly and publicly embraced the notion of 1000 MW of this technology in the Southwest, and we are working to make this support yet more vociferous and effective within the Congress. There’s little doubt that a federal energy bill or other tax measure that includes energy tax incentives will include tax incentives that will at least mildly stimulate all solar technologies. Layered on state incentives, these credits would assist in growing the U.S. market. The nascent Homeland Security Agency is a natural venue for a national PV initiative. Our grid is vulnerable and our central station model of delivering energy endangers us to massive disruptions. SEIA is engaged in getting in on the ground floor of this new agency. Work on encouraging solar procurement on the part of the Federal government itself also proceeds apace, with noteworthy success recently within the Parks Service and the Department of the Interior generally. We feel that we will likely be able to make these agencies’ procurement of solar more public, more predictable and much more extensive. The behemoth transportation bill will also begin its movement this year, consuming a great deal of Congress’ time and energy. There are many opportunities for solar in this area as well – from the prosaic but important opportunities to increase solar usage in lighting, signage and other infrastructure, to mid-term market development (as with photovoltaic powered refrigerated trucks) to longer term pursuits of hydrogen economy goals. This year promises lots of excitement for all segments of our industry – the key is to remain both aggressive and optimistic. About the Author: Glenn Hamer is executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Association. He can be reached at:
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