US House and Senate agree to US$787B stimulus package; good news for solar industry

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United States House and Senate leaders came to an agreement last Wednesday on the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and President Obama is set to sign economic stimulus package tomorrow.

After the House passed their US$819 billion version of the bill last month, and the Senate passed their US$838 billion version last Tuesday, Democrats conceded to cut certain sections of the bill in order to win the Republican votes needed for its passage.

The final version of the stimulus bill amounts to US$787 billion, which will be the government’s most expansive economic rescue package since The Great Depression, even after the cuts. The House and Senate both voted Friday to pass this final version of the bill.

The final version of the stimulus package, which President Obama is scheduled to sign tomorrow in Denver, Colorado at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to signify its positive “green” implications, has pleased many in the solar power industry for its contributions to solar power development.

In order to stimulate the economy and create jobs, the bill includes over US$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects, especially solar. Industry representatives have estimated that the bill will create 67,000 jobs to the solar power sector this year and a total of 119,000 jobs over the next two years.

“The solar provisions in the bill will allow us to begin hiring, create growth opportunities for small businesses throughout the country and keep the economic engine going,” commented Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch, according to a Reuters report.

President and CEO of Applied Materials, Inc. Mike Splinter also added his own applause to the solar energy provisions of the stimulus bill, stating in a press release that “this bill does a lot for solar, and will create thousands of ‘green’ jobs just when we need them most.”

The package also creates a new 30% tax credit for equipment and facilities that manufacture renewable energy-generating materials, such as solar panels.

“The manufacturing credit is a huge step forward to put Americans to work making solar panels so we all can benefit from clean, affordable renewable energy,” stated Splinter.

“In particular, the manufacturing tax credit is an excellent first step to help generate some of the five million new green jobs President Obama has cited in his commitment to help transform our energy infrastructure from fossil fuels imported from abroad to clean energy manufactured and produced in America,” added Oerlikon Solar CEO Jeannine Sargent. “With the initial US$2 billion investment, our goal is to demonstrate the merits of continued support of the manufacturing sector as a key driver of economic recovery.”

Through a grant program, taxpayers will also be able to redeem solar investment tax credits that are unusable because they do not have a sufficient tax liability to offset. Additionally, the tax penalty for subsidized energy financing will be repealed.

“Oerlikon Solar also commends the vision and leadership of the DOE grant provision to help investors and developers capture the value of the 30 percent investment tax credit for renewable energy projects,” stated Sargent. “This provision will loosen gridlock in the capital markets with funding for shovel-ready solar projects that have been on hold due to lack of available financing.  This provision will benefit the entire solar industry as it can apply to projects of any size.”

The stimulus bill also includes a number of other energy funding measures, including a plan to invest US$11 billion in the development of “smart grid” projects, which use new technologies to create a more efficient and cost-effective energy grid. US$6.3 billion will be provided for energy efficiency and conservation grants, and US$2.5 billion will fund energy efficiency and renewable energy research, among other energy efficiency and research projects and incentives.

President Obama has stressed his commitment to solar energy and other renewable energy sources, stating, “the country that figures out how to make cheaper energy that’s also clean, that country is going to win the economic competition of the future.”

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