Bailout plan bails out clean-energy sector

The massive U.S. financial bailout plan, signed into law recently, renews existing tax credits for renewable energy and includes rebates for plug-in hybrid drivers.

Representatives from the wind and solar industries have lobbied for months to extend the credits to ensure continued growth. Without the supports in place, they warned business would stall, resulting in thousands of lost jobs. In addition to the renewable energy "extenders," the law boosts subsidies to invest in technologies to burn coal more cleanly and to sequester carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants underground. Also important to the clean-tech industry is $800 million in available bonds for renewable energy generation facilities from renewable sources, such as biomass and geothermal.

For solar, the law:

Extends for eight years the 30 percent tax credit for solar residential and commercial solar installations.
Eliminates the $2,000 cap on that tax credit for solar electric panels installed after the end of this year.
Allows utilities to benefit from these tax credits.

Wind power installations can benefit from the tax credits as well. For small wind turbines less than 100 kilowatts, the federal government will now give a tax credit of up to $4,000 for the next eight years.

Residential geothermal systems have a $2,000 tax credit. And credits for marine power systems were extended eight years as well.

In a statement, Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), said that "this bill is a major step in our long journey toward energy independence and ensures that solar energy will be a significant part of America's energy future." He said that by 2016, solar energy will be the least expensive source of electricity for consumers. "By passing this bill, Congress has finally given the solar energy industry 'policy certainty' that will attract investment, expand manufacturing, and lower the cost of solar energy to consumers," Roger Efird, SEIA chairman and president of Suntech America, said in a statement. Similarly, the American Wind Energy Association on Friday put out a statement lauding politicians for maintaining a policy in place. Previous, renewable energy tax credits have lapsed and delayed growth of the industry.

Transportation and efficiency

The law will give drivers of plug-in hybrid vehicles a tax credit between $2,500 and $7,500, depending on the capacity of the battery. Larger vehicles, such as trucks, have larger credits. Also in the fuels arena, the law extends the alternative fuels tax credits and extends for one year the existing $1 per gallon credit for biodiesel and renewable diesel production. Energy efficiency gets a nod as well with measures, such as rebates for appliances and bonds available to building operators that decrease building energy usage by 20 percent.