July 31, 2008

Time for a rant

Oh well... it appears that at least some of the renewable energy guys have given up in frustration after the 8th rejection since 2007 of the renewable tax credits bill in the US Senate!

I just read this in a newsletter I get from Solar Nation:

Despite the efforts of advocacy groups, trade associations and public-interest groups, including over 3500 Solar Citizens, Congress failed this week for the eighth time since June 2007 to pass legislation extending tax credits for ordinary Americans investing in renewable energy.

In parliamentary language, the motion to invoke cloture on the bill (S.3335) was defeated on the Senate floor by a vote of 51-43. In everyday language, even with concessions made by Democratic leadership on a string of related and unrelated issues, Senate Republicans could not overcome their distaste for having the clean energy tax credits funded by tax revenue garnered elsewhere. This position parallels the Bush Administration's attitude to the proposal, as expressed in this extract from its Statement of Administration Policy:

"Overall, the Administration does not believe that efforts to avoid tax increases on Americans need to be coupled with provisions to increase revenue."

In earlier iterations of this danse macabre, majority leader Senator Harry Reid had quickly announced his determination to re-introduce the legislation at the earliest opportunity. On this occasion, he didn't. And with but a week to run before Congress' August recess, it seems likely that our legislators will vacate Washington next Friday without resolving this vital piece of business.

What are the chances of senators returning to work in September refreshed and recommitted to keeping our renewables industries alive at this critical time in history?

Here's a clue: thirty of them will be focused on a re-election race in their home state in November, rather than business on the Senate floor. Your choice.

It's not Solar Nation's role to throw blame at one political party or another, but given that our senators have had over a year to conference, compromise and cooperate on a simple ("it's already on the books; let's keep it going a little longer, chaps") but supremely important bill and have signally failed to do so, we can legitimately label this Congress as non-functioning, impotent, and of no use to the American people. In today's irredeemably divisive political climate, the purpose of Congress has been subordinated to unproductive doctrinaire warfare. The losers, as always, are the people, made to stand at the very back of the line as their representatives in government scrap with each other for first place.

We'd like to say how much we admire our elected legislators in Washington.

No, really, we'd like to be able to say that. Trouble is......

Copyright © 2007, Solar Nation All Rights Reserved.

They could have easily extended a bill already in existence but obviously they want to stop the momentum that the green moment has overtaken the country since the popularity of The Inconvenient Truth and as an effect of high oil prices. The powers-that-be would rather use the high oil prices as a scare-mongering tactic to change policy about drilling for AWNR oil, instead of investing in renewables; although the State government's own studies have shown that ANWR oil would have little impact on oil prices and keep the US heavily relying on foreign imports.
Opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil development would only slightly reduce America’s dependence on imports and would lower oil prices by less than 50 cents a barrel.
But of course drilling would mean more moolah for big oil companies in which Bush, Cheney, and cronies are heavily invested! And so, it is perhaps expected that politicians, who are too deeply embedded in the pockets of big oil, will instead continue the myriad tax breaks for the oil companies and will not allow an extension of the renewable energy credits. Afterall, big oil has clearly indicated they are not interested in renewables. They are gloating after the big-time looting that has been going on for quite some time now (the link is from an Op-Ed in Boston Globe in 2005. The profits have only soared upwards since!) and would rather see it continue even in the post-Bush era.

Also, let me take this opportunity to point out another huge record-breaking quarter for the oil companies. Exxon for example reported the biggest quarterly corporate profit in history at $11.7 billion. The right-wingers act as if the Saudis are making all the money but the margins at the US oil companies have not really decreased! You will note that it is net profit that increases to mind-boggling high values quarter after quarter, not just overall sales. #$@Q$#...

Notice how fast the prices at the gas station go up when the price of a barrell of crude goes up. But it has not come down that rapidly when the barrel price has fallen significantly in the last 2 weeks. On NPR yesterday, some oil industry expert tried to explain it away by saying that it is because the gas at the pump was actually refined some weeks back when the price was higher. What crock!! If that was true, then should it not take longer to go up too, since the reverse holds true then. The NPR reporter did not call him on it (it was actually not an interview - just the industry expert's sound-bytes that they used) then gave some hogwash about the rapid rise and the slow fall (rockets up and feather-falls down) of oil prices was only a perception of consumers. And there was some other BS too, possibly by another guy, about supply-demand issues and such i.e. he claimed that prices have actually dropped significantly this month since demand is low due to conservation (less driving, car pooling) by American population and so this lowered demand has resulted in a rapid drop at the gas station too. Somehow, I think the American public still feels that pinch and is not convinced there has been a rapid drop in gas prices. Somehow, that higher and higher profit every quarter tells me it is not merely a perception.

So, what does the renewable energy rebate provide?
Among other provisions, the bill would have extended a 30 percent investment-tax credit for solar energy and fuel cells for eight years, doubled the cap on the residential solar credit to $4,000 and extended the credit for eight years and extended production tax credits for wind-power facilities for one year (see Senate to Vote on New Renewable Incentives Bill).
I remember from my work in the solar field last year that the federal rebate was a mere $2000, which is insignificant compared to the cost of putting solar on a typical residential roof: $25K-$40K! Of course, there are various state level rebates in addition, which I think are still on; depending on which state you are in, the state rebates can be substantially more than the $2K. But obviously, as a policy, the federal policy matters to effect nation-wide change and nation-wide thinking. Its a travesty that politics of the Republicans in power have meant that the sunniest states in the US - like Texas and Arizona - have very poor solar subsidies. California is an exception and is by far the solar leader. And cloudy and not-so-sunny New England (Massachusetts, in particular) does pretty well in state subsidies because of their state government's liberal leanings.

P.P.S. Ads from Sierra Club and MoveOn hit McCain over energy policy. More of the same: "Another $4 billion giveaway to Big Oil."

P.P.P.S. (I think this is a personal record for postscripts.
Yes...its allowed, though apparently in poor style.)

Also, more bad news from another emerging solar market yesterday:

Spain's national energy commission has approved a new set of rules that could reduce the size of a popular solar-incentives program, if they are approved by the parliament and prime minister.

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