18 Senate Democrats call on Congress to include renewables in stalled stimulus package

Source: By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive • Posted: Monday, March 23, 2020

  • 18 Democratic Senators called on the Senate leadership to include renewable energy in its upcoming stimulus package in a letter sent Friday night.
  • The letter suggests financial recovery for renewables take the form of tax credit extensions or an elimination of the tax credit phase-out, direct payment, refunds, or safe harbor extensions, among other options. “To ensure that we do not lose years of progress on clean energy and the source of employment for tens of thousands of renewable energy workers, Congress should look to previous relief packages as an example for how to support this sector and the broader American economy,” the letter reads.
  • A House version of the letter is also in the works. The upcoming stimulus package will be the third coronavirus relief bill, expected to cost as much as $1.8 trillion. A procedural vote on the legislation fell short of the votes needed to move forward Sunday, and Senators are expected to continue negotiations this week.

Dive Insight:

Coronavirus cases are spiking across the country, and states and businesses are responding with unprecedented shut-downs intended to keep people as far away from each other as possible to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which had taken 428 American lives as of Monday morning.

As a result of these dramatic curtailment efforts, businesses small and large are hurting nationwide and Congress’ third relief package is intended to start the long economic recovery process.

The budding renewables industry is one of many sectors taking big hits — the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates the novel coronavirus could threaten $35 billion in investments, $8 billion in rural community tax benefits, and over 35,000 jobs. And 30% of projects across the solar industry are seeing delays, according to Friday’s letter.

Supply chain disruption is one of the biggest delays, with renewables projects facing months of equipment setbacks.

“A major collapse in financing is all but certain as investment firms’ profits turn to losses and capital is suddenly unavailable for large labor intensive investments,” the senators wrote.

There is precedent for this kind of action to support major U.S. infrastructure. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included “over $90 billion in funding for clean energy and grid modernization,” according to the letter.

Friday’s recommendation by Senate Democrats followed a Thursday letter sent by major renewable energy groups spanning from wind, solar and hydropower that also called for tax relief and safe harbor extensions.

Jobs are another argument for clean energy relief, a former Obama transition team member who served during the 2008 financial crisis told Utility Dive last week. Jobs in construction and manufacturing should be some of the first to be developed, as they don’t involve close contact with people and will be relatively safe fields to enter back into, he argued.

The Trump administration has floated potential aid to the oil industry through directing the Department of Energy to buy crude oil for the country’s strategic reserves. Senators in their letter argued clean energy should be similarly prioritized.

“These strategies to provide assistance to the clean energy industry must be included in any financial recovery discussions, particularly if the Trump Administration continues its push to aid the oil industry,” Senators wrote.