The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has responded angrily to an attack on solar by a conservative think tank saying it is ready for a "bare knuckle brawl" if necessary.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) published a report last week entitled 'Filling the Solar Sinkhole: Billions of Bucks Have Delivered Too Little Bang', which cited the danger of expanding the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar and warned of an intense lobbying effort off the back of its inclusion in President Obama’s budget proposal. The ITC is set to fall from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016 but a reprive has been floated by the President.

The report also claims that the industry received an average of US$39 billion in subsidies every year for the past five years. Ken Johnson vice president of communications at the SEIA was unequivocal in his response to the report and particulary the claimed level of subsidies.

“Aside from spelling solar correctly, much of the report is untrue or misleading,” he told PV Tech. “For starters, how does an industry with a US market value of US$15 billion get US$39 billion in annual subsidies? The answer: it doesn’t. This is fuzzy math, and dirty tricks, at their very worst."

The report doesn’t make it clear how it arrived at the US$39 billion figure. Of the 26 references cited in the TPA report, 16 of them are from organisations that were either founded by the Koch brothers, or have received funding from them.

“If clean energy critics want a bare knuckle brawl, then they’re going to get one. This type of guerrilla warfare simply isn’t going to work,” said Johnson.

“Americans overwhelmingly support clean, renewable solar energy – and that scares the hell out of the Koch brothers and their lackeys. Here’s the dirty little truth: few industries benefit more from the US tax code than carbon-rich big oil. By their own estimates, oil and gas tax breaks amount to a staggering US$100 billion over 10 years.

“So how do the Koch brothers divert attention away from this? They prod conservative groups, many of which they fund directly or indirectly, to attack clean energy. If it served their purposes, they would portray Snow White as an adulteress, a deadbeat and a crack queen,” said Johnson.

“Solar energy is an American success story – not a fairy tale. Since first being enacted in 2006 under a Republican administration, the solar ITC has been a tremendous boon to both the US economy and our environment, changing America for the better and helping to secure our nation’s energy future. Today, the solar industry employs nearly 175,000 US workers, pumps US$15 billion a year into our economy and offsets more than 20 million metric tons of damaging carbon emissions into the air,” said Johnson adding that employment in the solar industry had increased 85% in the last four years.

As a means of achieving energy independence solar enjoys bi-partisan support in the US; a number of conservative groups, including the Tea Party, have backed it and it is supported in a number of traditionally Republican states. Remaining arguments are over how it is funded placing the TPA report at the centre of the storm. With such a strong jobs argument, however, pushing the issue of perceived federal misspending is at the centre of any remaining debate. 

“If the Koch brothers and their minions want to have a discussion about the solar ITC, then let’s have one at the same time about intangible drilling costs and the oil depletion allowance. We’ll have that debate with them any day of the week.”

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