Renewable fight punted to lame duck

Source: Geof Koss, E&E report • Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2016

Efforts to extend a key renewable tax break appear headed for the lame-duck session, after the Senate yesterday approved a prime legislative vehicle without the extension sought by Democrats.

The Senate voted 89-4 to extend Federal Aviation Administration programs through September 2017, sending the measure to the White House for enactment just two days before the agency’s authorization expired.

Democrats had hoped to use the measure to fix what they call an error that occurred in last year’s year-end omnibus tax package, which extended the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar for five years but left out other qualifying sources, including geothermal, fuel cells, and combined heat and power facilities.

But the tweak was not included in the FAA extension passed by the House, where Republicans have taken a dim view in recent years of federal incentives for renewable energy.

Yesterday’s Senate vote marked the second time that Democrats have fallen short of extending the ITC along with federal aviation programs (E&ENews PM, April 12). Because the Constitution requires revenue bills to originate in the House, the FAA legislation has been considered one of the few remaining legislative vehicles of the year.

But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking member on the Finance Committee, said yesterday that Democrats are “looking for every opportunity” to extend the credit for other sources.

“There are other areas that are going to be brought up at the end of the year in terms of extenders,” he said in an interview.

He blamed outside conservative groups for beating the drum against the extension.

“The far right and all of their interest groups continue to say Western civilization is going to end if we have these renewable breaks, and the bottom line here is that the longer you wait, the more harm you do to creating more high-skill, high-wage jobs in renewable energy, because you don’t have the certainty and the predictability,” Wyden said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had promised to fix what Reid called a “Republican error” in last year’s omnibus, but refused to do so in the FAA bill unless Democrats agreed to accept two environmental riders — targeting sage grouse management plans and a coal mining stream protection rule.

But a House GOP aide disputed the characterization that the omission of the additional qualifying sources was a mistake, while noting that House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) “has made it clear he does not want to move additional extenders this year.”

Furthermore, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) yesterday threw cold water on the idea of addressing the ITC and other expiring credits, while acknowledging that there would be a renewed effort to address the issue when lawmakers return in September.

“People are talking about it and trying to come up with some answers there,” he told reporters. “I’m not very enthused about it because I thought we’d finished the extender packages.”