Texas Lawmaker Offers Solar Bill, Following PHEV Package

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), a senior member of the House Science Committee, recently unveiled major federal solar energy legislation in Austin, Texas. The Solar Utilization Now Act of 2006, or SUN Act, provides federal grants to help states conduct solar energy projects.

“The answer to much of our energy needs comes up every morning,” said Congressman Smith. “Solar power is clean, plentiful and has zero emissions and zero waste. This bill is good for our energy security, national security and environmental security.” The SUN Act encourages state government and private industry to team up to apply for federal grants. This will enable them to buy solar energy panels at nearly half the cost. Under Smith’s bill, states are required to contribute at least 10 percent of the funding. The federal government matches the grant at a maximum of 40 percent. The rest would come from utilities or private industry. Since the grants are competitive, there is an incentive for states and utilities to pledge more than the minimum amounts. Every state would be eligible to participate in the program. The program’s funding starts with $50 million in the first year (2007) and ramps up to $300 million in 2011. Smith planned on introducing the SUN Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith was also behind a recent bill promoting Plug-In Hybrid Electrical Vehicles (PHEVs), a relatively new and promising approach for lowering the foreign oil demands of the country’s transportation sector. Known as the Plug-In Hybrid Electrical Vehicle Act of 2006, the proposed legislation offers grants to state and local authorities to help them acquire PHEVs. One recent draft form of the bill proposes $250 million in annual funding (2007-2016) for research and development of PHEVs. The legislation also calls for $50 million in annual funding (2007-2016) to carry out a pilot program for deployment of PHEVs. Batteries in conventional hybrid cars recharge by capturing energy released during braking or through a generator attached to the combustion engine. PHEVs offer the option of recharging batteries by plugging the vehicle into an electrical outlet, and can be driven up to 60 miles without internal combustion engine power and with almost no emissions. The Austin City Council and Austin Energy are leading a national campaign called “Plug-In Partners” to demonstrate to automakers that a market exists today for plug-in hybrids. They are enlisting other cities to join their call for the production of PHEVs. “Austin is setting an example for the rest of the nation through its support for plug-in hybrid cars,” concluded Smith. “This legislation allows Austin and other cities across the nation to take advantage of plug-in hybrid technology.”
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