Putting a solar smiley face on the bailout bill

Ouch. The ideological collision of recent federal actions has my head aching with mixed feelings. On one hand, the government bailout of Wall Street financial firms, which constitutes the largest act of graft perpetrated on the public in history, has champagne corks kissing the gilded ceilings of Wall Street.



The ideological collision of recent federal actions has my head aching with mixed feelings.

On one hand, the government bailout of Wall Street financial firms, which constitutes the largest act of graft perpetrated on the public in history, has champagne corks kissing the gilded ceilings of Wall Street. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 will put $700 billion into a gigantic syringe and pump it into the collapsing vein of American’s addiction to credit. The Dow dropped on the news the bailout passed. I’m guessing now that the fix in, the next fix is being considered.

On the other hand, the extension of renewable-energy tax credits and energy efficiency investments for residential and commercial buildings was extended by five years, and the individual cap for residential systems of $2,000 was eliminated. The money for these credits is afforded by rewriting the tax code for the oil and gas industry. Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t my idea of good legislation, but with Peter starving Paul in the basement for so long, he’s had it coming.

I’m generally a free-marketer when it comes to government intrusion. I think government-sponsored research and development is a good thing, and that public-private partnerships can be a healthy way to get new technologies jump-started and mainstreamed. I have mixed feelings about tax credits for solar, given the snake oil that greased the solar market in the Carter years, and believing that continued federal assistance keeps up the perception that solar and wind technologies are still not ready for prime time.

However, the playing field is not even, and probably never will be. Every conventional source of energy, be it oil, gas, nuclear, or coal, got started with massive federal financial assistance, and continues to receive massive amounts of federal assistance. To put the full load on renewables to go it alone is illogical and smacks of protectionism.

Another issue that a lot of people are not aware of is that the solar industry employs about 60,000 people today, and is primed to grow considerably under the tax credit legislation. I know a guy who is waiting for photovoltaic panels for his house. They’re apparently hard to get and they’re very expensive. America can’t make enough panels fast enough to satisfy demand. So why did it take years and emergency legislation to pass the extension?

For more on the tax credits for efficiency and renewables, turn to page 96 for this month’s Green Space column, authored by Kyle Pistor, vice president of government relations for NEMA.

As for me, I’m headed out for a week of vacation, during which I’ll get my house and gardens ready for winter. I need to get my hands on some wood, dirt, and tools; maybe that will help my head.

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