Solar lobby wants grant program extended

A top solar energy lobby is pressuring the Senate Finance Committee to extend a program that partially reimburses solar photovoltaic installation costs.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) published a memo Wednesday urging people to contact their senators in support of the Treasury Department’s 1603 program. The federal grant program has funded 33,000 solar projects and drawn $5.44 billion in private sector investment, SEIA said.

Congressional Republicans have paid attention to another number — the $10 billion spent on the program. They say the program is another example of government intervention in uncompetitive energy technologies.

The 1603 incentive expired at the end of last year. The Senate Finance Committee will soon take up a measure that could provide hope for 1603 backers, SEIA said.

“Within the next few days, the Senate Finance Committee will begin crafting legislation to extend a host of expired tax incentives,” reads the SEIA memo penned by the group’s vice president of legal affairs, B. Manning Feraci. “If the Finance Committee moves forward with this effort, it is imperative that an extension of the 1603 program is included in the bill.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) tried to slide an amendment extending the 1603 program into the Senate Highway and Transportation Bill (S. 1813) in March. That got a 49-49 vote, killing the amendment.

The 1603 grants amount to a “Solyndra-style” program, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in March, referencing the taxpayer-backed California solar company that went bankrupt after getting a $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee in 2009.

The 2009 stimulus established the cash-payment program because the tax credit financing market, which traditionally funded renewable energy installation projects, had collapsed.

The economy had drained profits and tax liabilities that financiers used to hedge against the credits. Some banks that backed renewable projects also failed.