Solar Energy Lobby Calls For Extending Obama's Stimulus Grants for Solar Power

Elizabeth Harrington | October 12, 2011 | 6:29pm EDT
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This artist rendering released by SolarReserve LLC shows what will be the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a solar generating facility, that is being constructed northwest of Tonopah, Nev., in Nye County. (AP Photo/SolarReserve)

( - The head of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the trade association that advocates for the the solar energy industry, said Wednesday that the solar industry is “rock-solid” and that a program included in President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus law that provides federal grants to the solar energy industry should be extended.

Under current law, the stimulus program is set to expire at the end of this year.

SEIA CEO Rhone Resch also said it would be a “huge mistake” to blame the entire industry for the problems at Solyndra, Inc.

During a conference call briefing, asked Resch: “Why should U.S. taxpayers give another penny to the solar energy industry?”

He replied: “Well, you know, first of all the solar industry was invented here in the United States, it is now the fastest growing industry here in the U.S.”

He continued: “But due to the economic downturn in this country it’s still very difficult to finance projects, which are going to deliver electricity at a lower cost to the taxpayer than what exists today, without programs like the 1603 program.

“The solar industry has proven itself as a rock-solid, economically viable industry here in the United States. We’re growing faster than any other industry right now, and it’s important at this juncture with the economic conditions that exist in this country, that we keep smart policies like the 1603 program in place,” Resch said.

Resch held a briefing with reporters to address the impact of extending the Section 1603 Treasury Program, which was a part of President Barack Obama's $825 billion economic stimulus law.

The program “allows the owner of commercial solar property to receive a 30 percent grant, in lieu of taking the solar Investment Tax Credit,” according to SEIA.

As of June 29, the Section 1603 Treasury Program had awarded 2,657 grants totaling $1.18 billion for more than 6,300 individual solar projects in 45 states.

“Ultimately this is the kind of policy that makes sense,” Resch said. “This is the kind of policy that actually gives a positive return to the taxpayer.”

The 1603 treasury program will expire on Dec. 31, and would cost over $1 billion if extended, according to President Obama’s 2012 fiscal year budget, that takes into account the program’s extension.

The tax credits are designed “to reimburse eligible applicants for a portion of the cost of installing specified energy property used in a trade or business or for the production of income,” according to the Treasury Department.

During the briefing, Resch cited a study by EuPD Research that said a one-year extension of the program would result in an "additional 37,000 jobs."

“That is what is at stake if Congress extends the program,” he said. “The flip side is if they don’t, obviously these jobs won’t be created and the industry will contract and will face a very difficult time going forward.”

Resch was asked if the unfolding Solyndra scandal has “poisoned the atmosphere” in Washington for him and SEIA. The solar panel manufacturer filed for bankruptcy last month after receiving $535 million loan guaranteed by a Department of Energy program in 2009 over the objections of federal analysts.

“We support the investigation into Solyndra bankruptcy and the hearings, I think, are designed really to shed more light on to what happened," Resch said.

“If they were found to have broken any laws, they need to be held fully accountable. So, you know, for our position here, information is not the enemy. But we think that it’s a huge mistake if one tries to--let’s just say, view the entire solar industry through the Solyndra lens.”

He added: “They in no way represent the overall health of the industry.”

President Obama visited Solyndra in May 2010, commending the now failed company: “The promise of clean energy isn’t just an article of faith.”

Solar power as a whole accounts for less than 1 percent of electricity production in America, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s most recent statistics on renewable energy consumption and electricity.

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