No Stimulus for Clean Energy…Yet

President Bush saved a couple trees and money this year by posting his “e-budget” online instead of printing the usual 3,000 copies (yawn), but the Senate Finance Committee’s attempt to further green the budget failed yesterday. The Production Tax Credit that would have helped a variety of renewable energy producers was rejected yesterday by the Senate. The tax package itself was broad, at $158 billion, and part of that money was to be set aside for renewable energy tax breaks that Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had added at the behest of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), both strong renewable energy proponents.

Though the vote was close, at 58-41, the package failed to get the 60 votes needed to end debate, a reflection that the Senate wants to pass a more slimmed-down package that’s palatable to the House. Indeed, the renewable energy tax breaks have wide approval, but many who voted against this proposal think that they simply don’t belong in this piece of legislation.

Amid the optimism from the Democratic presidential hopefuls’ promises of green-collar jobs, cleantech is quickly becoming the darling of Congressional Democrats. Renewable energy was the only industry singled out in the stimulus package proposal for tax breaks. While it seems these energy tax breaks will likely be cut as Congress rehashes the package, it looks like Capitol Hill is starting to see what Sand Hill Road already knows about cleantech.

The proposed renewable energy tax breaks would have helped a variety of renewable energy producers, including the solar industry, whose anxiety over their 30 percent tax incentive was heating up last week. The proposed incentives could have doled out as much as $3 billion over the next 10 years, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates.

Cleantech Capitol clout is growing, and rather suddenly, renewable energy has found some new allies in its lobbying corner. The week started with Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley announcing “The Carbon Principles,” a set of environmentally stringent investment policies that stipulated, among other things, a commitment by the banks to “encourage legislative and regulatory changes” to promote renewable energies.

Then yesterday Michael Dell and his fellow business celebrities from the Technology CEO Council went to Washington to lobby on energy efficiency and remind Congress of a key fact: technology yields a 10-to-1 return on energy savings. “For every kilowatt hour of electricity that has been demanded by ICT (information and communications technology) technologies, the U.S. economy has increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10,” said John “Skip” Laitner of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

With a veritable “coalition of greening” taking place in and around Congress, we are likely to see legislation passed to promote green energy, renewing and extending renewable energy tax incentives. It looks like Congress doesn’t want to have to wait for the next president to take office for the federal government to get into renewables in a meaningful way.