Bill Gates: Wind, solar tax credits should fund other things

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates said this week that government subsidies for wind and solar should be funneled to other technologies where “we need to get the market going.”

Gates made the comments during an interview with Bloomberg Politics, where he was asked whether market forces or government support should help renewable power.

“The tax benefits there should be shifted into things that are more limiting, like energy storage, offshore wind, which still has a huge premium price,” Gates said.

Although he called progress in wind and solar “very helpful,” Gates pointed to their intermittent nature and said the sun “doesn’t shine 24 hours a day.” The cost of those resources has come down dramatically helped by “subsidization,” he said, but “they are not going to come down much more.”

The comments of Gates, who spearheaded a $1 billion fund to support low-emission technologies, came as the Solar Energy Industries Association is pushing for an extension of the solar investment tax credit, or ITC. In July, officials from more than 900 companies penned a joint letter to Congress to make their case on the ITC, which is slated to taper off beginning next year (Energywire, July 17).

Daniel Whitten, vice president of public affairs at SEIA, said his organization “was surprised by reports that Mr. Gates was taking a limited approach to confronting climate change by criticizing proven clean energy tax policy … especially in light of the billions of dollars in subsidies that are given out to dirtier fuels.” The ITC is known to help reduce emissions and drive economic activity, he said.

In 2018, renewables accounted for 17.1% of total U.S. electricity generation, with wind at 6.6% and all solar at 1.6%, accordingto the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That compares with fossil fuels, which are roughly 64% of all generation.

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, was also critical of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

“If the nation is going to get serious about tackling climate change, we’ll need a level playing field that supports the clean energy future Americans want and deserve,” Wetstone said.

Still, Wetstone said he agreed with Gates that federal tax credits for wind and solar have proved successful and that emerging sectors like energy storage and offshore wind could also benefit.

The Energy Storage Association is currently pushing for the ITC to include storage-related projects. Kelly Speakes-Backman, ESA’s chief executive officer, told E&E last week that such an incentive would help do for energy storage what similar policies have done for wind and solar (Energywire, Sept. 11).

Gates said this summer that the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund — which was founded in 2016 — would be fully deployed within the next year and would likely raise another $1 billion then (Energywire, June 25). Since the fund’s creation, it has invested in a variety of technologies, including several companies aiming to develop advanced batteries. Gates has also invested in companies such as TerraPower, which develops nuclear reactors, and Boston Metal, which aims to produce emissions-free steel.

In a blog post last month, Gates wrote about the importance of zero-carbon materials and a need for “smart” public policies to accompany innovation.