By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Leaders of the wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-power, biomass, ethanol and energy efficiency industries have banded together to call for an American energy bill that would drive the nation toward a clean energy future.

Solar panel installation (Photo: Oregon DOT)

The coalition of renewable energy groups wants Congress to move quickly to pass an energy bill, with or without carbon pricing, to help create and secure jobs, stabilize the U.S. economy and develop the domestic industries that will replace fossil fuels.

Big oil, gas and coal industries have a wealth of money to lobby Congress to maintain the status quo, said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a news conference Thursday.

Yet, polls and surveys show that the vast majority of Americans support moving forward with renewable energy. Congress should listen to its constituents, he said.

“It’s going to take Congress standing up and doing something and hopefully they’ve got the guts to do so,” Resch said.

The new energy coalition wants Congress to include subsidies, incentives and policies favorable to their industries in any new energy and climate bill crafted by Congress. So far federal lawmakers have failed to pass either a major energy or climate bill, except for the Waxman-Markey measure that passed in the House in 2009 but was never adopted when the Senate’s attempts at a similar law faltered. In his Oval Office address this week, President Obama called on Congress to reach an agreement on an energy package in July. Leaders say they hope to produce a new bill, cobbled together from areas of agreement in several previous proposals.

Many believe that moving America into a cleaner energy economy will require taxing or putting fees on the carbon emissions of existing fossil fuel industries to level the playing field for new energy sources. But a carbon cap-and-trade concept has proven to be a major hurdle to passing energy legislation.

The new coalition of renewable energy associations and leadership at Thursday’s news conference said that taxing or pricing carbon emissions should be a part of American’s larger energy plan, but if elected leaders cannot agree on a carbon plan, they should pass an energy bill without it.

A bill favorable to renewable energy could still help drive the new industries forward, they said, and wouldn’t preclude Congress from taxing or pricing carbon at a later time.

“Putting a price on carbon or capping carbon is critical to driving energy to its greatest potential,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. But there are still a “wealth of provisions” that can be put in place to “start us on that path,” she said.

The members of the new coalition said it was more important to act quickly, and would prefer a pure energy package that didn’t include a cap-and-trade plan, if it appeared that carbon pricing would derail a energy plan, as it has so far in the Senate.

The Alliance to Save Energy was founded in 1977.

Wind energy, which has been spurred by production tax credits that come up for renewal every few years, would benefit from long-term clarity and supports, even if carbon pricing were not in place, said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.  A bill with strong incentives for wind would be enough to help companies hang on and prosper in the U.S., otherwise those companies will move efforts overseas to fulfill demand there, Bode said.

“We’re (the coalition) for renewable, efficient jobs in this economy,” she said. “There are companies hurting right now because there’s no (energy) policy in place.”

Among the other types of provisions – beyond a carbon fees — that can help renewable energy develop are tax incentives for homeowners that use clean energy; production tax credits for wind and solar producers; supports for manufacturing; tax abatements for new wind, solar and geothermal installations or related manufacturing, grid improvements to make room for clean energy transmission and other policies that make using domestically produced energy cost-effective.

The AWEA has argued vigorously that a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) for the United States also should be a part of any major energy bill. A RES which would set targets for obtaining a certain percentage of energy from clean sources and send positive signals to investors about wind, solar and other renewables. Several states, many of which have developed a significant base of wind producers, already have enacted renewable goals, generally referred to as Renewable Portfolio Standards.

The U.S. has 80 biomass plants in operation.

Biomass, hydropower and ethanol industry representatives emphasized at the news conference that their businesses provide American jobs and domestic power that cannot be outsourced overseas. Biomass spokesman Bob Cleaves noted that making fuel from waste wood and cellulose brings green jobs to many areas of the U.S., including parts of the hard hit Southeast U.S., suffering doubly because of job losses related to the BP Oil Spill.

“Biomass power is a clean energy jobs machine,” said Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association.

Resch and others noted, also, that if American taxpayers invest in clean energy now, they’ll at least get  a payback later in terms of cleaner air, ongoing jobs and continuing supplies of energy that don’t require despoiling the land.

He chided opponents in the fossil fuel industry for spreading the idea that a clean energy bill would be too costly, when it should bring down electricity costs in the long run.

”That’s just disingenuous coming from people who’ve  been supported for the last century with subsidies,” Resch said, noting that oil and gas companies enjoyed more than $550 billion in global supports last year.

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