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Senate's stimulus bill is full of disappointments for climate advocates

Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Leslie Kaufman, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- There was hope among climate activists in the U.S. that the federal stimulus to address COVID-19 might be the moment to both heal the economy and advance a long-overdue transition to clean energy.

Whatever they'd envisioned, the $2 trillion bill agreed to by the Senate in the wee hours of Wednesday morning wasn't it.

As congressional leaders assembled the spending bill, the push for clean energy drew fierce opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and conservative critics, who accused Democrats of trying to exploit the urgent need for coronavirus relief to foist an environmental agenda on a wounded country.

"Some folks in Congress and in other parts of Washington, D.C., are suggesting this is a bunch of liberals angling for the Green New Deal, and these are coastal elites that just want to pad their investments in clean energy," says Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, a nonpartisan group of business leaders and investors. "It's not."

Most people in the clean energy sector are "boot strap-and-jeans guys," Keefe says. "These are everyday Americans who are struggling."

Here's where stimulus negotiations currently stand.

 

The wind and solar industry asked for extension of tax credits and other supportive provisions. They were cut out entirely.

Solar power lobbyists have warned that half the industry's jobs are at risk as a result of the pandemic. Some solar panels are stranded in other countries, and even when supplies are on hand, lockdown orders are preventing workers from installing panels. (Where oil refineries are generally exempt from shelter-in-place requirements, the waiver doesn't extend to all renewable energy ventures.)

Wind developers are racing to get projects in service so they don't lose some of the value of the renewable energy tax credits that will start being phased out for turbines next year. Colorado-based Scout Clean Energy, for instance, is racing to finish construction on a 200-megawatt project in South Dakota. At the same time, it's seeking to renegotiate power-purchase agreements in anticipation that the work might not be done in time to claim the full production tax credit, says chief executive Michael Rucker.

Some renewable developers are asking Congress to create a refundable credit from the Treasury in lieu of existing tax credits, an approach that was used after the financial crisis a decade ago. Meanwhile, a collapse in financing is leading to canceled renewable projects nationwide.

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