Optimism for US solar in spite of new Republican Congress

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Despite the newly elected Republican majority in US Congress, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) remains optimistic about the future of the US solar market, a SEIA spokesman told PV Tech yesterday. 

“The Republican wave makes our job a little more difficult, a little more challenging, but we’re still very optimistic we can work with both Republicans and Democrats to develop effective public policies in the future,” said Ken Johnson, SEIA’s vice president of communications.

Johnson also stressed SEIA’s current political undertaking of trying to save the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) – which currently offers all types of solar projects a 30% tax credit – from falling to 10% in 2017, as reported in the US Department of Energy’s 2015 fiscal year budget

“What we have to do as an industry is do a better job of educating red state members of both the Senate and the House about the growing importance of solar to both our economy and the environment,” said Johnson.

Johnson told PV Tech that the changes in the Senate and the House just mean there are a greater number of new members being sworn in that the solar industry must help enlighten. 

“The simple fact is 9 out of 10 Americans support an expanded use of solar across America and most politicians don’t want to be on the wrong side of the 90%,” said Johnson.

The SEIA’s agenda fits with much of the Republican doctrine, according to Johnson, who said both groups want to create jobs, stimulate economic development, improve America’s energy security, help reduce pollution, all of which Johnson said the solar industry has done thanks to the benefits from the ITC. 

“I can’t imagine any Republican who would say no to that agenda.”

But the Senate’s new Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, has already made it known he is against environmental policies such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s new amendments to the Clean Air Act that require power plants to cut emissions by 30% by 2030. McConnell introduced the Coal Country Protection Act in June 2014, which would require the EPA to jump through a multitude of hoops before it could proceed with its new regulations. This bill was blocked by former Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid.

Johnson, however, did state that he does not believe congress could overturn the new EPA regulations, even with a Republican majority, but such a decision would be left up to the courts. Instead, Johnson explained how the changes made to the Clean Air Act will work in SEIA’s favour when trying to secure the ITC past 2017.

“We believe solar can be a real game changer for states looking to meet the new Clean Air regulations in the future,” Johnson said. 

Johnson also said that although the SEIA is optimistic, the change in power in the Senate makes its task a little more challenging, and nothing is going to happen overnight, with movement on ITC probably not start picking up speed until 2016.

“That gives us some time to spend on Capitol Hill to better educate members on the importance of the ITC and everything that it’s doing for the economy,” said Johnson.

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