U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is hoping to save two federal tax credits promoting alternative energies like solar and wind.
Bartlett, R-6th, whose district includes Frederick County, introduced a bill this month to continue the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy.
Those credits are set to expire this December.
The bill has 38 co-sponsors and is identical to a Senate bill that is co-sponsored by Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat.
But challenges remain about how to fund the credits, one of which gives a 30 percent investment credit for businesses that install solar or fuel cell equipment.
Democratic leaders favor finding new sources of tax revenue to pay for the credits, whereas Bartlett’s bill does not include a source for new funding.
Lisa Wright, Bartlett’s spokeswoman, said Bartlett was inspired by a New York Times column on the subject to introduce the bill.
She said the credits would eventually pay for themselves by encouraging industry growth in solar and wind.
“The fact that it would be encouraging the creation of jobs and investment for American energy production would produce income and tax revenue for the government in the out-years,” Wright said. “But the Democrats, at least some Democrats, don’t like to consider those dynamic effects of tax changes when they are directed to business investments.”
His bill has one Democratic sponsor, though on the Senate side there are many more Democrats on the bill.
The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to approve another bill today that would include an extension of many of the renewable energy tax credits, but it also include some tax increases to offset the cost.
Wright said it remains to be seen if those would be acceptable to the Senate. If they are not, then Wright believes Bartlett’s bill could have a greater chance of passage because the House leadership would have to look at other options.
Bartlett is not on the House Ways and Means Committee or Energy and Commerce, but he is co-founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus and a member of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.
Without federal tax credits, it could be harder to push for expansion of green industry in Maryland. Bartlett and other Frederick County officials recently helped pass Maryland law that will create an economic development organization for clean energy in Maryland that would likely be sited in Frederick.
It will be more difficult to attract industry without the tax credits, though.
“If the federal tax credits expire, that puts a big crimp in the effort to expand renewable power everywhere in the United States, not just Maryland,” Wright said.
In Frederick, BP Solar is building a $97 million expansion.
BP supports the credits because they help the industry grow and increase economies of scale so prices will drop.
But BP disagrees with other proposals to renew them that would tax other forms of energy to pay for the credits.
“BP is investing billions of dollars in new U.S. energy supplies and is the largest investor and developer of low carbon energy in the U.S.,” said BP spokeswoman Sarah Howell.–“So while we support renewal of the incentives, we question the logic of funding them by measures which discourage efforts to bring on other much needed energy supply.”
Peter Lowenthal, the executive director of the Maryland D.C. Virginia Solar Industries Association, said the solar credits are critical to the industry.
“The solar industry is trying to overcome the inertia of getting itself to a growth point where its prices will decline enough to be generally more competitive,” he said.
But he is less than optimistic about chances for Bartlett’s bill, given the fiscal concerns voiced by House leaders.
For that reason, the association is hoping the Ways and Means Committee approves the other bill in order to make sure some of the tax credits remain.
They are appreciative of Bartlett’s effort, however.
“He is one of the few members of Congress who puts his money where his mouth is and actually owns a solar panel on his house,” Lowenthal said.
Bartlett’s bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing or a vote.
By Meg Bernhardt
15 May 2008
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