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Pa. Senate approves $650M alternative energy bill

Builders of wind farms, owners of coal-fired power plants and buyers of hybrid cars and solar panels would be among those who benefit from a $650 million compromise bill approved Wednesday by the state Senate to promote cleaner energies and conservation.

The measure was approved 44-5 on the Senate’s last day of business for the year. It calls for tax credits, rebates, loans and grants over a decade or more in an effort to cut electricity bills and pollution and make Pennsylvania a destination for a booming renewable and cleaner energy industry.

Republicans who control the chamber advanced the bill, which is their response to the energy platform originally proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell 10 months ago. After weeks of talks, Republicans made last-minute concessions to Democrats, such as adding $50 million for rebates on solar panels.

However, the bill is likely to undergo changes in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, and is already being criticized by Rendell as spending too little money to make Pennsylvania competitive with other states that are trying to attract cutting-edge energy businesses.

Democrats on Tuesday tried, but failed, to remove a provision that would extend $25 million in grants for equipment to help coal-fired power plants meet toughening federal and state regulations on mercury and other pollutants.

The Senate also passed two biodiesel bills Wednesday. One would require that biodiesel be added to each gallon of diesel sold in Pennsylvania in increasing amounts as in-state production of biodiesel reaches certain levels. The other would raise the in-state biodiesel production subsidy from 5 cents to 75 cents a gallon – at a cost of about $5 million – and expand an existing rebate program on purchases of gas-electric hybrid vehicles to other vehicles that burn alternative fuels.

“This is a wonderful start and is a great way to end our calendar year with what I think is a great success under our belt,” said Sen. Mary Jo White, the Venango County Republican who was a sponsor of all three bills.

The energy bill would divide the $650 million among different sectors of the energy industry and residents and business owners.

The biggest chunk, $380 million, would go to companies that produce energy, manufacture equipment for the industry or research and develop new technologies. Among the energy sectors that could benefit are wind, biofuels, solar, geothermal and coal. Some of the money also would be available to local governments for renewable energy and conservation projects.

Another $165 million would be available for reimbursements and rebates for consumers who buy solar panels, hybrid vehicles and home conservation items such as energy efficient furnaces, air conditioners, windows and doors.

The remainder would go to low-income families, with $100 million in emergency aid to help them pay utility bills and $5 million in loans to homeowners to help pay for things like air sealing, insulation and energy efficiency improvements.

By Marc Levy

Canadian Business

12 December 2007