Setback for Renewable Energy

By MICHAEL COLEMAN Journal Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The wind and solar energy industries lost another battle on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when Republicans blocked a vote on a Senate bill to extend their tax breaks.

The vote to take up the bill failed for the second time in a week, this time on a 52-44 vote.

Democrats couldn’t get the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and move to a vote on the bill, which contains almost $18 billion in renewable energy incentives, including investment and production tax credits for solar and wind energy companies.

The credits expire Dec. 31 and industry officials — especially in the solar industry — contend that allowing the credits to lapse will cripple their growth and cost thousands of jobs.

A spokesman for German-based Schott Solar, which broke ground on a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in New Mexico in March, said the first phase of the firm’s project is safe. But without the investment tax credit, expansion is in jeopardy.

“We have plans for expansion,” Alex Marker said. “This will certainly delay them.”

Republicans, including Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., moved to prevent a vote on the tax bill, arguing that tax breaks should not be offset by what they described as tax increases on other industries.

Domenici said he supports the solar and wind energy tax breaks. But he argued they should not be contingent on imposing other taxes, because the clean energy incentives will create jobs and stimulate the economy, effectively paying for themselves.

“They will create jobs immediately — you don’t have to look for tax offsets every time,” Domenici told the Journal. “I don’t think we will ever pass this package of taxes as long as the Democrats insist that we place a tax on someone or some business.”

Democrats proposed to raise about $54 billion by closing what they described as a tax loophole that allows hedge fund managers and others to defer some overseas profits, and by delaying a tax break that multi-national corporations are expected to receive in the future.

Democrats, including Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, contend the renewable tax credits, part of a larger tax package, should be paid for.

A Democratic effort to pay for the clean energy tax breaks by repealing about $18 billion in tax breaks for the biggest oil companies also was blocked by Republicans this year.

Bingaman said he would vote to extend the clean energy tax breaks with or without recovering the revenue elsewhere in the budget. But he said the current Congress pledged to balance its budgets, and the bill Tuesday was an effort to do that.

“I thought the proposal was imminently reasonable,” said Bingaman, who voted to move the bill to a final vote Tuesday. “The responsible thing to do is make up the revenue somewhere else.”

Domenici said the bill contained other provisions unpalatable to Republicans, including $1.6 billion to allow trial lawyers to claim tax credits for contingency fees.

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.