The sea change that occurred yesterday in the elections has the solar industry abuzz in speculation and trepidation. There is much analysis and a lot more guess work at play, but the political developments should focus the mind on what can be done.
The first clue is what the lame duck Congress will try to do. We already know that cap and trade is a nonstarter, but some remnants of an energy bill may be pushed forward before the new Congress convenes in January. Many solar industry analysts are watching for a particular piece of legislation known as the Treasury Grant program, which is now due to expire at the end of this year.
This program is key to developers who receive a grant in lieu of the 30% tax credit—so that they do not have to have any tax liability to receive the money from the federal government. The solar industry has been lobbying hard for an extension to this program, but that does not appear likely. A possible compromise may be reached to create a refundable tax credit so that investors in renewable energy products would still receive the 30% tax credit, irrespective of whether they have any tax liability. The major difference would be that they would have to wait until the tax season rolls around to receive their checks from the federal government. Even if this legislation does not pass, no one is running for the exits. The 30% investment tax credit is still good through 2016. But failure to extend the Treasury Grant Program will significantly slow things down, particularly for larger projects.
The new Congress will adopt a new vocabulary when talking about support for renewable energy. Few will try to talk in terms of reducing the threat of global warming. If Congressmen want to get anything done, they will frame their proposal in terms of creating jobs and boosting the economy. That is not such a bad thing as the US has lost its edge in manufacturing for the solar energy industry.
And if you are a homeowner who is still on the fence about going solar, you may want to make your move sooner than later. The cost of solar panels has dropped significantly. Installation costs are coming down as well. Both of these trends have slowed considerably over the past six months. The major catch is that other than the 30% tax credit, the future is not so clear about the state and local incentive programs. States are becoming much stingier. Some states have reallocated funds from renewable energy programs to shore up their budgets. Some programs have been cut with almost no notice to the public and the lines for those waiting for benefits have grown longer. Consequently, the ability to tap into one of these programs will become increasingly limited—so if you have a chance to get some extra money for your solar energy system, you may want to act sooner than later.