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Congress, Don't Send The U.S. Solar Industry On An Extended Vacation

Originally posted on Huff Post Green.

It's that time of year when many Americans are just returning from a summer vacation.

During their travels, most of those vacationers probably passed by some of the many solar projects, large and small, being installed across the country. However, they probably didn't know that while they were on holiday, smart policies were at work speeding up deployment of solar projects. From PV farms to solar water heating systems, solar is having a record growth year and is creating stable, well-paying American jobs.

One of the main drivers of solar's robust growth has been the Treasury Grant Program (TGP), an initiative created in the Recovery Act which provides a cash grant in lieu of the 30 percent solar investment tax credit for companies that lack access to private tax equity financing due to the poor economy. Research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the TGP "has provided significant economic value" and more than 40 states have solar projects that were stimulated by the TGP.

Vacationers who hit the beaches of Southeast Florida were sunbathing near the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a 25-megawatt solar power plant that is the largest photovoltaic plant in the country. It provides clean, safe, reliable electricity to about 3,000 homes and created around 400 construction jobs. Almost 900 other solar projects nationwide have been built because of the TGP.

Tourists sending postcards from the National Cherry Festival in Michigan may have noticed a revival in America's manufacturing sector. The Upper Midwest is one of the regions hardest hit by the recession. In Michigan, where unemployment hovers around 10 percent, the TGP has supported thousands of jobs in the manufacturing plants producing solar products. American-made solar components from these plants will be sold across the U.S. and exported around the world.

Elvis fans making the pilgrimage to Graceland may have been all shook up to see how the TGP is creating jobs for local solar installers, contractors and distributors. Memphis, Tennessee-based Unistar-Sparco was able to cut their energy costs by one-third by going solar with the help of the TGP.

While we were on vacation, the TGP was hard at work and there's more that it can do. According to independent research, extending the TGP by two years would help the solar industry create more than 65,000 American jobs over the next five years. Many of these jobs are in the trades hardest hit by the recession, like manufacturing, construction, plumbing, and electrical contracting. The study also found the TGP would add 5,100 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power more than 1 million homes.

Unfortunately, this successful stimulus program is headed for a permanent vacation at the end of the year if Congress and the President don't extend it.

Inaction on the TGP is bad enough, but Congress also raided $3.5 billion from another promising stimulus programs for creating clean energy jobs: the Department of Energy's (DOE) renewable energy loan guarantee program. The Loan Guarantee Program offers a federally guaranteed loan to solar developers and manufacturers.

This troubling decision will harm our economy and our climate by taking away a potential $35 billion in financing authority for renewable energy investments.

It is imperative that this mistake be fixed.

There are currently more than 23 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power projects in the development pipeline. That's enough to power more than 4.6 million homes and create tens of thousands of jobs. These projects, and the jobs they will create around the country, will remain in a state of uncertainty - and in some cases risk being scrapped - with the TGP and Loan Guarantee Program in limbo.

Additionally, Congress can resurrect our nation's manufacturing sector by extending the current investment tax credit it provides to solar projects to cover solar manufacturing as well. This will help keep solar manufacturing in the U.S.

The TGP, Loan Guarantee Program and strong incentives for solar manufacturing are a critical trifecta for enabling solar to compete with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. These programs provide the specific guarantees investors look for when deciding to finance energy projects.

Like the rest of us returning to the office, Members of Congress are finishing vacations and visits back to their hometowns to return to Washington. We hope they'll consider the many Americans who weren't able to travel this year because of the economy or couldn't vacation at all because they don't have a job. We're sure many of them would love a good job in the solar industry. But if Congress and the President don't act quickly to extend the TGP, replenish the Loan Guarantee Program and expand solar manufacturing incentives, the U.S. solar industry may go on an extended vacation and we will lose more ground to nations like China and Germany who are pouring investment and policy support into the new cleantech economy.

Rhone Resch, SEIA President and CEO

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