For starters, the skids were greased before inauguration day. The surprising extension of the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy appended to the financial bailout bill was slated to disappear, but instead was extended eight years. Moreover, the $2000 cap for residential solar installations was removed.
This is a long enough runway for national renewable energy companies to build infrastructure around. However, in the short term there’s not a lot of hunger for tax breaks. Groups like votesolar.org are pushing to make the ITC refundable so more people can use it now. Banks who provide tax equity solutions for big solar projects have turned the faucet off.
The Obama stimulus package earmarks $30B for upgrading grid infrastructure. There are a lot of solar farm possibilities that don’t currently make sense because our medieval grid can’t get that energy to where it needs to go. Texas has taken the infrastructure lead, other states need to start planning for enhanced transmission lines.
Obama might also enact cap and trade legislation by the end of the year. Solar would be a way for companies to avoid penalties, increasing their already compelling incentives to solar up their buildings. Solar in California will likely grow because of California’s AB32 (which caps emissions from power stations, industry and oil refineries starting in 2012) and there is a good chance a cap-and-trade system under Obama could be modeled after AB32.
New renewable portfolio standards (RPS) could also put a lot of pressure on states and municipalities to get their renewable programs in gear. RPS require local energy providers to derive a certain amount of their energy from renewable sources. States like Pennsylvania, California, Virgina, Colorado, and Oregon have very progressive standards. Others may be required to jump on board under this administration.
Obama will create a tide that lifts all ships in renewable energy, but I will be interested to see the attention that distributed solar gets comparatively. Ultimately though, he needs pressure from below to see to it that progressive legislation sees the desks of all legislators. Not just liberal democrats who see few oil lobby dollars.
Last modified: January 25, 2009