Pay attention, freshman members of Congress... In case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago Gallup released results from a recent poll suggesting that Americans want more alternative energy. Here's what folks were asked:
With ambitious initiatives such as its Solar Stimulus Program and a target of installing 250 megawatts' worth of solar-generating capacity in the state by 2017, Massachusetts has shown itself to be a vanguard in the U.S. push for solar, and the latest news to emerge from the Commonwealth further bolsters this reputation: having tapped out its $68 million state solar fund in around half the amount of time it was allotted for, the Deval Patrick Administration is in the process of assembling a new program that officials hope will match the generosity of its predecessor, Commonwealth Solar.
California’s Senate Bill 17 (SB17) hasn’t received much attention from the press, but it will soon now that it passed both houses of the state legislature on September 4th. The bill, presented by State Senator Alex Padilla, is commonly referred to as the “smart grid systems” bill and now sits on Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk. SB17 is particularly important to scaling renewables and solar energy because, if it is signed into law, it will be the first official smart grid legislation to be implemented at the state level.
At GetSolar, we strive to maintain a balanced viewpoint on the clean energy marketplace. We rarely take or advocate a strong unilateral stance on an issue. This week we are making an exception for the recent activities of the American Petroleum Institute (API), America's largest oil and gas trade association. In keeping with our policy of informed debate, it is essential to examine what appear to be unethical efforts of API to undermine Congressional support for the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), the Waxman-Markey bill that includes cap and trade legislation and which is moving into the Senate this fall.
Although the smart grid has just recently become a topic of the American public’s interest, lawmakers were well aware of its importance several years ago. The development of this much-needed grid upgrade is dependent upon the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which declares it the policy of the United States government to support the modernization of the transmission and distribution system in order to maintain a reliable and secure electricity infrastructure.
Massachusetts is definitely getting into the game of ramping up the use of solar energy. Governor Patrick took a bold step towards increasing installed solar power capacity in the Commonwealth by announcing the first round of proposed projects for the Solar Stimulus Program on June 30, 2009. The initial tender, known as a Request for Proposal (RFP), identified approximately 5.34MW of solar power to be installed at various publicly owned facilities. Logan International Airport is poised to be one of the primary benefactors of the Solar Stimulus Project, as the four passenger terminals are slated to receive 2.75MW of solar energy. This would place Logan ahead of Denver International, which currently boasts the country’s largest solar generation site at an airport, consisting of a 2 MW ground-mounted solar array approximately 7 miles away from the terminal. Other state facilities identified in the RFP include four sites of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the Somerville Housing Authority, and a new residence hall at Westfield State College.
The American Southwest is a mixed bag of solar opportunity in which Arizona's excellent incentives are outstanding partly because they stand alone. Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have similarly sun-drenched climates but offer uneven encouragement to residents to install solar panels on their homes and businesses. With California blazing the solar incentive trail just next door...what gives? Partly, these states--like many others throughout the country--lack proper motivation. And by "proper motivation" I mean high electric rates. When the per-kilowatt hour cost of electricity is below average, it is incredibly difficult to make the electricity generated by solar panels cost competitive. There are other factors, of course: state legislatures that can't spare the money from already stretched budgets, or won't spare it due to interests in traditional energy markets, or constituencies that haven't pulled together to demand a shift towards clean energy.
Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed into law a package of three renewable energy bills that received legislative approval earlier in March. Sponsored by Senator Bob Smith, the passage of the bills is a political coup for New Jersey Democrats and very welcome news for solar and wind energy professionals in the state, regardless of their political leanings. Here are some details of the bills (direct quotes taken from the press release on the package):
At 11:00pm, EST, November 4, Barack Obama was officially declared the presumptive 44th President of the United States of America. Congratulations, Senator Obama! There's no way of knowing what the four years of his term will bring to the nation, or the world, or really even to the solar industry: but during his campaign, the Senator made some bold statements about his intended support for renewable energy, and "a planet in peril" was referenced during his acceptance speech last night. So let's take a look at the history of solar legislation in this country so we can understand more fully what Obama's promises really mean.
After being voted down no fewer than seven times by the House of Representatives (and ten in the Senate), the bill to extend renewable energy tax credits past 2008 has finally passed. President Bush has said he will sign the bill, so the future looks--well, sunny.
The bill maintains the 30% tax credit for commercial installations of eligible renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind, and does something of momentous importance to the average citizen: it continues to extend that 30% credit to residential customers while removing the cap of $2,000 the previous legislation had imposed. Up until now, if you wanted to install solar in your home and spent $40k on a system, you could only claim a $2k tax credit federally; now, you'll be able to claim the full $12k. It's a huge stride forward in encouraging residential adoption of renewables.
And it's amazing news for utilities, which under the 2005 legislation were not able to benefit from this credit but now can. This will hopefully lead to utility-scale renewables finally finding purchase in states where the finances simply were not appealing when compared to tax breaks the utilities could get for developing coal, oil and gas. The news isn't quite as good for wind, whose ITC's were only extended for one year, as opposed to solar's remarkable eight.
What changed the fate of this legislation, whose future looked so bleak not even a week ago? It got bundled into the emergency bailout legislation intended to alleviate our current financial crisis. It seems that the urgency of the bailout plan, along with its expectation that the parties would be doing everything in their power to find common ground, gave it just the push it needed to finally move forward. Divided along party lines as recently as Monday, Congress decided to go through with the $700 billion bailout due to the prevailing sense that the economy had no other effective route to recovery. On Monday, the vote was 228-205; today, it was 263-171. The Senate, after rewriting the bill to include the renewable energy legislation, passed it on Wednesday night by a wider margin of 74-25.
Visit the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to learn more about what this means for the solar industry in America. What we've been handed is the ability to maintain our competitive edge in the global solar market, and to pursue strategies of energy independence here at home.