Tax Package Changes – Renewable Energy Programs are Back in Business

  • Published on December 10th, 2010

Wind farm in IndianaClean and renewable energy provisions that were set to expire have been added into the tax package. This is good news for progressives and friends of clean energy, depending on how you look at it – we get a pittance out of the near-trillion dollar deal, but if the monster was going to go through anyway, this way at least we get a few crumbs to move renewable energy forward.

Led by California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein, 17 Democratic Senators had been pushing to get these items added in. It’s still unclear just what is going into the package, set to be voted on Monday – nobody has seen an actual text of the bill yet. “I believe they are [in],” Feinstein  told reporters in the Capitol. ” ‘Believe’ is the operative word because I haven’t seen it.”

Tilting the playing field for wind and solar

One big item: the Treasury Grant Program. With the economy in the doldrums, financing for big-bucks wind and solar projects had tanked. This program provided direct grants to jump-start projects ($2 billion in government seed money brought in another $9 billion in private funding); looks like it’s back for at least one more year at the behest of Sens. Feinstein, Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and the other 15.

“The TGP has supported 1,179 solar projects with total investments of over $1.3 billion in 42 states and 211 wind projects with total investments of over $15 billion in 38 states. The TGP has succeeded with its intended purpose of stimulating financing and installation of renewable energy projects despite the slow economic recovery and loss of the tax equity finance market,” notes the Solar Energy Industries Association.

And the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab estimates that the program has funded 4,250 gw of renewable energy and supported more than 55,000 jobs.

Support for Green Manufacturing

Here’s President Obama at today’s press conference:

…This agreement will really help America over the long term, because it continues the credits for manufacturing jobs related to energy coming in to America.  And I’ll remind you, just in the last two years, there have been 30 high-powered battery factories either opened or presently being built in America, taking us from 2 to 20 percent of the world’s share of that.  And we’re going to probably be at 40 percent by 2014.  This is a really important thing, bringing manufacturing back to America, because it’s a huge multiplier to create new jobs.

Ethanol back, too

Unfortunately, in order to win votes of corn-state Senators, the subsidy for corn-based ethanol is back for another year as well.

As we reported last week, it had looked like a combination of small-government Republicans and anti-subsidy Democrats had united to kill this clunker,

Ethanol has been a disaster. Once pushed as an alternative fuel that could help the planet, corn-based ethanol was done all wrong – and ends upcosting more in greenhouse gas emissions than regular gas.

It never made economic sense without taxpayer handouts – but it made political sense thanks to the clout of farm-state Senators, and thanks to the clout of the Iowa caucuses in the process of selecting a President. But all that could finally change this year, as free-market purists team up with deficit hawks and realists who never supported this boondoggle in the first place.

But the cash will continue to flow from the treasury to the midwest (see accompanying story).

And… cash for coal?

The last thing you’d think we’d need would be more cash for the very profitable coal industry. But coal state senators love pork, too, and somehow a privision got into the bill to subsidize (as an “alternative fuel”) liquid coal.

What the heck is liquid coal? Another way lobbyists for traditional fossil fuels can get their clients onto the alternative fuels gravy train.

Destructive to mine, water-intensive to manufacture, devastating to our climate at every step of the way – liquid coal is one of the world’s dirtiest fuels. Liquid coal production emits twice as much global warming pollution as gasoline & requires at least four gallons of water per gallon of fuel produced… while coal-fired electrical power is incredibly profitable, producing dirty liquid coal fuels is phenomenally expensive. Liquid coal facilities cost as much as $6 billion for a single plant.

Click through for more on page 2… See what didn’t make the cut, and a full rundown of the clean and dirty subsidies…

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.