While the absurdity of the Republican presidential debates makes good comedic entertainment, it is doing little to reveal the candidate’s policies on energy and specifically their positions on solar energy. The country’s energy policy should be one of several defining bridges between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Voters need to know where candidates stand on energy, not how they feel about each other.

What we do know is that the Keystone Pipeline is off the table, at least until a new administration takes the reins. Environmentalists are celebrating but the fate of the solar industry and specifically the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is very much up in the air and could be co-mingled with other Congressional budgetary issues.

Pursuing a Solar Investment Tax Credit Extension

Earlier in November, the CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Rhone Resch, headed to Washington to recruit bi-party support for the federal government’s 30% solar energy investment tax credit extension. The waters are muddied and if no progress is made, the solar ITC will expire next year.

Despite support from individual states and municipalities in the form of solar energy incentives, it is the federal ITC that has driven construction of new solar panel systems and helped create 200,000 solar jobs. If the extension is not forthcoming, it would dampen the sector’s outlook, reduce jobs and hurt the country’s renewable energy policy.

As with everything else in Washington, the solar energy tax credit extension seems a no-brainer that somehow gets complicated by politicians and special interest lobbyists. Resch explained; “You’re not going to see small standalone legislation go forward at this point; it’s going to be bigger stuff, and mostly, we’re going to have the ability to add tax to it.”

Solar ITC Possibilities

If the current solar investment tax credit is not extended:

• The 30% ITC will be reduced to 10% for utility, commercial and leased solar systems.

• Customer-owned solar energy construction installations will receive no ITC benefit.

• The chief financial incentive for consumer owned solar energy construction will be eliminated.

It would seem like Congress is sending a message the public does not want; “Down with solar, up with fossil fuel burning energy.” Is this possible in the 21st century?

Given that Resch has spent time with Republicans and Democrats lobbying support for the solar investment tax credit, his analysis has bearing. He identified four pieces of legislation to which the solar ITC could be attached:

• A highway bill that must be passed by November 20th
• A customs bill that will streamline trade enforcement
• Include thsolar tax credite ITC in an omnibus appropriation bill
• Revisions to the country’s tax code in 2016

The later opportunity may be last minute but could also be the best bet for a long-term, meaningful solution. A big question in this scenario is how does newly elected Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, feel about the extension or including it in his specialty, appropriations legislation.
By the Congressional Numbers

Resch reports that all but one Democrat is on board and that between 10 and 13 Republicans will back the solar investment tax credit extension.

The important stipulation that Resch seeks is including “commence-construction” attached to any ITC extension legislation. This would ensure the credit was available to private, residential solar energy construction projects. Resch has proposed a five-year commence-construction” extension which will most likely come up short in Congress.

However, from a political standpoint, the chances for a long-term extension increase significantly if legislators lift the oil export ban. The solar sector’s amazing job growth is likely to carry more weight than anything else in Congress, where an extraordinary number of politicians refuse to acknowledge man-made climate change.

Paul Ryan – Wildcard In Energy Policy

The new Speaker and his policies, including solar energy, will become much more visible. The Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) rates Ryan low on energy policy and low on solar.

The Speaker’s 0% CAF rating is based on his initiatives to trim funding for clean energy research. Among his controversial stand is his position opposing new fuel standards implemented during the automaker bailout.

Every taxpayer should press for the solar energy investment tax credit extension and broader renewable energy research. It will be a fight worth winning!

Go solar today!