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Solar News

The Energy Bill is Dead...Long Live Ten Million Solar Roofs!


Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) admitted that he did not have the votes needed to pass an energy and climate bill before the August recess, The Washington Post reported.  Reid had been working over the past couple of weeks to put together an energy bill that would include a cap on carbon emissions from utilities, but the combination of election year politics, a troubled economy, and a stubborn Republican opposition has ultimately proven too much to overcome.

Instead, Reid will likely move forward with a much narrower oil spill bill that increases the liability costs that oil companies would pay following spills.  It may also create additional incentives for the development of natural gas vehicles and provide rebates for products that reduce home energy use.  Senate Democrats said they expect to find Republican support for the bill and to pass it in the next two weeks.

But even as the climate bill was being laid to rest yesterday, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the lead sponsor of comprehensive climate change legislation introduced earlier this year, refused to admit defeat and expressed hope that the measure could gain momentum after the November elections.  Some advocates of climate legislation are also holding out hope that a narrow energy bill passed by the Senate could be expanded in conference, where it will be considered alongside the economy-wide cap-and-trade bill passed by the House last year.  Such a strategy could backfire, however, if the Senate reacts negatively to being forced to vote on a measure that was never considered in their chamber.

But don't despair, not all energy-related news is so dire. Solar Industry Magazine reports that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this Wednesday approved Sen. Bernie Sanders's (D-VT) Ten Million Solar Roofs bill, which is designed to encourage the installation of 10 million solar systems in the U.S. over the next ten years. The bill would authorize $250 million for competitive grants in 2012 and additional funding through 2021. Systems with a capacity of one megawatt or less would be eligible for funding.

In an interview with Dave Roberts of Grist from February, Sen. Sanders explained how this additional grant would further reduce the cost of solar panels:

The federal tax credit would be up to 30 percent off the cost of a project. That's a lot. Let's say hypothetically you wanted to spend $40,000 on solar. If you take 30 percent off that, you're down to $28,000. If you get state help you're down to $25,000. Then the federal government would pay half of that.

At this point it is unclear exactly what form the new incentives would take and the amount of cost they would cover.  In its current form, the bill would allocate the funds to states, which would use them to create or expand their own solar rebate, loan, and performance-based incentive programs. Thus, the cost savings provided by this act would likely be felt differently from state to state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the program, together with existing incentives, could meet and exceed the goal of installing 10 million solar systems over a 10-year period. The legislation would help finance the installation of up to 40,000 megawatts of new solar energy. After it cleared committee, Sen. Sanders asked Sen. Reid to include Ten Million Roofs in the energy bill he is expected to bring to the Senate floor before the August recess.

Another renewable energy initiative that might make it into Reid's "spill bill" is the Storage Technology of Renewable and Green Energy (STORAGE) Act of 2010, introduced on Tuesday by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).  The bill would offer up to $1.5 billion in tax credits to renewable energy storage projects that are connected to the U.S. electric grid. Increasing energy storage capacity would help promote intermittent energy sources like wind and solar power while reducing energy demands during peak hours and contributing to an overall more reliable smart grid, Sen. Bingaman's office said in a press release.

The STORAGE Act would provide a 20% investment tax credit of up to $30 million for storage systems connected to the electric grid. The bill will also provide a 30% investment tax credit of up to $1 million to businesses and a 30% tax credit to homeowners who install energy storage on their property to help serve their own energy needs or capture energy from on-site renewable energy generation.

So, while we won't be getting a cap on carbon emissions this summer, we may still be on course for millions in new solar incentives!

Updated: July 26, 2010