Twice now the renewable energy industry has narrowly lost votes in Congress to extend an investment tax credit crucial to jump-starting the market for large-scale projects like solar power plants. In December, Big Oil outmaneuvered green energy advocates and their Congressional supporters by claiming that rescinding huge tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry to pay for renewables would cost consumers at the pump. A more recent attempt to revive the tax credit also failed.
Now the American Council on Renewable Energy is bringing out its big green guns. Representatives from Silicon Valley tech giants, Wall Street investment banks and utilities signed a letter sent to the congressional leadership late Wednesday urging the long-term extension of the 30 percent investment tax credit as well as the production tax credit for the electricity produced by solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy systems. Among the signers urging action by March 1 are executives from )Google (GOOG), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Applied Materials (AMAT), Credit Suisse (CS), Wells Fargo (WFC), venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and utility San Diego Gas & Electric, a subsidiary of energy giant Sempra (SRE).
Interestingly, the phrases “climate change” and “global warming” never appear in the letter. In a savvy move, the council has forsaken doom and gloom for a purely economic message: American jobs, competitiveness and innovation are at stake, the signers argue, and the tax incentive will spark a green tech boom at relatively little cost to the taxpayers. It’s a Silicon Valley mindset and its no surprise that while the signers represent companies from all over the United States, most hail from California.
The tax credits expire at the end of 2008 and proponents argue that a five-to-eight year extension is needed to create a stable investment climate, given that it can take three to five years for a large solar power plant to be permitted and built.
“The United States is in a historic position to lead in innovation and competitiveness in the renewable energy sector,” wrote the council’s three co-chairs, which include Dan Reicher, Google.org’s director of climate and energy initiatives. “As with all energy markets and in plans for growth in any businesses, certainty and continuity in public policy provides the confidence needed for stability in investments. We must ensure we are not creating an environment for boom and bust cycles in renewable energy and that we are not tying the hands of business owners in the sector looking to scale their technologies to meet demand and price points.”
Without an extension of the tax credits, the council warns that renewable energy projects in the pipeline that would produce 42 gigawatts of greenhouse-gas free electricity — enough to power tens of millions of homes — could grind to a halt, giving competitors in Europe and Asia the upper hand when it comes to green tech innovation.