Regardless of the outcome of Nov. 2 midterm elections, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), is positive about the solar industry’s future.
“Our industry doubled this last year in size and now has almost 100,000 people employed in the U.S.,” he said. “We’re a real economic force and that resonates with both Democrats and Republicans.”
A GOP Congress has historically supported solar, from the first tax credits passed in the 2005 energy bill by a Republican House and Senate, to extensions passed in 2007 and signed by George W. Bush. “You see over time that solar is about job growth; it’s not about choosing sides,” Resch said.
The greatest challenge for moving forward energy or tax policy will be getting Republicans and Democrats to work together to advance policy, Resch said. He said the challenge will be “breaking through the log jam that’s existed for the last several years.”
While some tax policies may be difficult for the 112th Congress to agree upon, Resch said development of an energy bill is likely. “When I step back and look at what policies will most likely get done, they’re looking very good for the solar industry.”
One of the potential trailblazers for solar policy could be Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), the likely new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Over the last four years, Camp’s District 4 in Michigan has seen approximately 20,000 layoffs in various manufacturing jobs. However, 5,000 new jobs in the solar industry have been created in Camp’s district, Resch said. “While other industries have moved overseas or shut down their factories, he’s seen that solar is moving into these areas with skilled labor and good distribution networks.”
Resch said Camp recognizes solar as an economic engine that creates jobs and is a smart investment for taxpayers.
Resch said that the Treasury Grant Program start date will likely be extended through Dec. 31, 2012, either as the program currently exists or through a direct payment mechanism.
Resch said broad recognition exists that the grant program has resulted in hundreds of thousands of jobs. “It’s probably the highest return on a dollar-by-dollar basis to the taxpayer of any of the provisions created in the stimulus bill,” he said.
SEIA is also pushing for a return of Section 48C, the manufacturing tax credit. Under 48C, which was created in 2009, 50 new solar manufacturing facilities are either under construction or in operation. Resch said U.S. manufacturers face competition from Germany, China, South Korea and other countries that provide more support for their industries.
One of the biggest victories for solar in the Nov. 2 elections may have been in California, which Resch said “hit a trifecta in regards to supporting solar energy.” The first victory was the defeat of Proposition 23, which would have kept the state’s aggressive goals for renewable energy adoption from taking hold. Resch said the other two victories were the election of Gov.-elect Jerry Brown and the re-election of Sen. Barbara Boxer, both supporters of renewable energy.
“I think California sent a very clear signal that they’re doubling down on solar and clean energy to help lift their economy,” he said.
While renewable energy developers applauded the defeat of Proposition 23, some worry that voter approval of Proposition 26 could neutralize its effect. Proposition 26 expands the definition of “tax” and requires a two-thirds majority of the California legislature (not a simple majority) to approve any new fee on companies or taxpayers. A UCLA School of Law study found that Proposition 26 “could have substantial and wide-ranging impacts on implementation of the state’s health, safety and environmental laws.” The study lists AB 32 as one measure that would suffer as a result of Proposition 26.
Resch declined to comment on Proposition 26 other than to say it is something to watch. The New York Times reported that some energy analysts predict Proposition 26 will result in a court battle, given the apparent disparity between rejecting Proposition 23 while approving Proposition 26.