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Congress must pass renewable energy tax incentives

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
An Open Letter to Congress

… How critical is the solar tax credit in driving solar’s growth in the United States? If our middle-class household is at all representative of the solar-installing customer base, I can honestly say that the federal incentive was a necessary component to making that investment work for us. Had federal incentives not been available this year, our budget would have been insufficient to absorb the substantial up-front expense that comes with owning a solar energy system.

Indeed, when I compare the flurry of installation activity now with the near-dormant conditions that prevailed just three years ago, it’s clear that the federal tax credit has greatly expanded the size of the domestic solar energy market.

Bear in mind that there are no other federal policies in place to promote renewable energy development and use. While other nations have adopted different mechanisms-CO2 limits, carbon taxes and feed laws, for example-to nurture this sector, renewable energy policy support in the United States begins and ends with tax credits. Allow them to expire and the safety net underneath renewables disappears with it.

The current cycle of tax credits for wind, solar and biogas will expire January 1, 2009, less than six months from now. Considering how important renewable energy has become for our nation’s environmental health and economic well-being, a citizen could be forgiven for thinking that extending renewable energy credits would be something of a no-brainer for Congress. But despite repeated attempts to extend them, Congress has not yet found a legislative formula that clears a path through the forest of interest groups and narrow partisan agendas standing in the way of timely passage.

Anxiety is growing in the renewable energy world that Congress could very well fumble away its remaining chances to adopt the necessary extension language. Should that happen, the momentum built up over the last three years will dissipate next year, and potentially throw the solar, wind and biogas industries into reverse.

This is no idle fear. Congress waited until October 2004 to extend the renewable enegry incentives that expired January 1st that year. The commercial wind industry ground to a virtual standstill that year and didn’t bounce back until the next year. Plans by overseas wind turbine manufacturers to build up a U.S.-based supply chain were put on hold as demand for commercial turbines sagged. Even though the wind industry has been on a roll over the last three-and-a-half years, memories of the 2004 bust continue to inhibit development of a U.S. manufacturing presence.

Should Congress fail to take action this year, the effects will be even more devastating than in 2004. This time around the entire solar industry-installers, equipment manufacturers, and third-party system owners-will experience a taste of what the wind industry went through before. So, too, will those companies-system designers, general constractors, civil construction companies, component manufacturers and environmental consulting firms-that have recently found a protfitable niche in the expanding renewable energy world. The ripple effect from a lapse in federal policy support, however temporary, will be felt by a wider circle of market actors, including utilities.
(10 July 2008)

Swords into plowshares: Lockheed Martin’s work in efficiency sector
(video and transcript)
Monica Trauzzi, E&E TV
Primarily known for its work as a government contractor for defense-related projects, Lockheed Martin is now using its technological expertise to help companies improve their energy efficiency.

What are the major trends in the world of efficiency? Who is leading the way? What is needed from policymakers to help make efficiency mainstream?

During today’s OnPoint, Tom Grumbly, vice president of energy and security services for Lockheed Martin, discusses his company’s energy efficiency projects and the business community’s push to go green.
(10 July 2008)
Swords into plowshares. Maybe. -BA

A low carbon diet

Jeremy Leggett, Guardian
The price of oil is only going one way: up. We literally cannot afford not to invest in renewables

The UK government’s renewables consultation called for a green revolution in energy. In doing so, it created a perfect tabloid rod for its own back. The proposed cost-to-consumer calculated by the Department of Business were based on the vanishingly unlikely prospect of an oil price as low as $70 a barrel in 2020. Expected additions to UK energy bills, at that oil price, would be 10-13% for electricity and 18-37% for gas, the government said.

Cue outrage. The tabloid press the next morning was full of angry headlines about inflating British energy bills. “Going green will mean five years of rising bills,” trumpeted the Daily Express. The adjacent headline read: “Fuel fears: Budget drove my dad of 92 to suicide.” The Daily Mail was more specific: “Price of turning green: Labour’s wind farm plan will cost every family £260 a year”. Neither they nor other similar articles in other tabloid papers mentioned the economic imperative of abating climate change.

Out-of-control climate change is going to land us all with bills that will make today’s energy bills look like pocket money. Nobody at all, that I saw, picked up the significance of the oil price, and peak oil, in the size of energy bills. Peak oil is going to send the oil price, high as it is today, through the roof. Gas and coal will go with it. Simply stated, fuel bills will be far higher if we stay with the status quo than if we go for a green renewables revolution.
(10 July 2008)

‘Extreme Makeover’ family, NTUA dispute power credits

Cindy Yurth, Navajo Times
The four huge solar trackers stand like Space Age sentinels outside the Yazzie house, contrasting sharply with the home’s natural stone facade.

By generating about the same amount of electricity that the home uses over the course of a year, they were supposed to ensure that Georgia Yazzie and her family would never pay another electric bill.

But the Yazzies, owners of the first “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” house built on the Navajo Nation, say the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is not holding up its end of the bargain.
(5 June 2008)
Cascading misunderstandings. -BA

Ken Bossong at SEC on July 31, 2008 Congressional Green Expo

Marc Strassman, Etopia News
Ken Bossong, coordinator of the Sustainable Energy Coalition, talks about the July 31, 2008 11th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy + Energy Efficiency EXPO + Forum, and about various green issues, including a discussion about putting photovoltaic solar panals on the Cannon, Longworth, and Rayburn House Office Buildings, recorded from Takoma Park, MD, July 10, 2008
(10 July 2008)