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Solar and wind power industry urges renewal of multi-billion dollar federal Treasury grant program

December 8, 2010 |  8:23 am

Wind turbines The end of the year -- and the expiration date for a Treasury grant program that buoyed the renewable energy industry during the economic slowdown -- is just around the corner, and solar and wind power leaders are bracing for the blow.

A one-year extension proposed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was shot down over the weekend. This week’s tax agreement between President Obama and congressional Republicans doesn’t include a lifeline for the Treasury grant program.

The program grew out of a federal tax credit that covered up to 30% of the cost to build a renewable energy project. In February 2009, as part of the government’s stimulus package, the offer was updated so that project owners could receive the funds about two months after finishing construction.

In that form, the program helped funnel more than $1.3 billion into 1,170 solar projects across 42 states while supporting 211 wind-power efforts in 38 states with $15 billion, according to industry groups.

Offering the grant for one more year would help push through another 140 megawatts of solar power capacity, enough to power 28,000 American homes, according to the trade group Solar Energy Industries Assn.

If a renewal effort falls through, the government will go back to offering the original tax credit through 2016.

But without the grant, the alternative energy space could contract, as private investors continue to act cautiously, industry officials warned.

“We just can’t afford it,” said Rhone Resch, chief executive of the solar association, in a phone interview last week from the Cancun climate change summit. “We’re looking at the jobs numbers and other sectors that need and feed off the growth of the renewable power industry. The grant was a game-changer for the U.S. industry.”

The solar group is pairing with the American Wind Energy Assn. today to discuss the program.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Turbines at Oak Creek Energy wind farm. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha for the Los Angeles Times.

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