Clean-energy backers shift focus off cap-and-trade bill to job creation

Clean-energy advocates talked more about tax breaks and a mandate for renewable electricity production than a controversial cap-and-trade bill when laying out their 2010 wish list on Tuesday.

During a presentation from five leaders of clean-energy trade groups on their legislative goals, climate change legislation was mentioned only briefly.

Instead, the executives from the five trade groups focused on the thousands of new jobs their industries would create with the right incentives from Washington. 

Extending tax credits and other incentives included in the 2009 stimulus bill could lead to 35,000 to 45,000 jobs in the solar industry in 2010, Rhone Resch, the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said.

A copy of the jobs legislation obtained by The Hill includes tax incentives for biodiesel, alternative vehicles and energy-efficient homes. 

Executives from the American Wind Energy Association, National Hydropower Association, Biomass Power Association and Geothermal Energy Association also participated in a news conference Tuesday.

Resch did say later during a question-and-answer session with reporters that his group supported a comprehensive energy and climate bill.

In a subsequent interview with The Hill, Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA, said that her group remained committed to seeing both energy and climate legislation pass Congress. 

But in the press conferences Tuesday, and during one last week for the release of a study about the job potential in the renewable-energy industry, clean-energy advocates have focused more on the benefits of a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and tax credits than on the cap-and-trade bill. 

Some Senate Democrats want to pass an energy bill that includes an RES, energy-efficiency standards and additional subsidies for nuclear power separately from climate change legislation, which is thought to face a higher hurdle in Congress.

Environmental groups want the two to move as one bill because some wary lawmakers will likely need some inducement on energy policy to accept a system in which carbon dioxide emissions are capped.

When asked why she didn’t talk more about a cap-and-trade bill, Bode called climate legislation essential for the long-term health of the industry. But she said the news conference was held to stress policies like an RES and tax breaks that would have more of an immediate impact on her industry.

The executives called support for an RES a common denominator among their industries.

Bode said there was an “urgency” to get Congress to act on a renewable electricity standard this year.

Although not as sweeping as a cap-and-trade bill, an RES still faces significant opposition, including from the utility trade group the Edison Electric Institute. 

Previous efforts to pass an RES that would require 15 percent of electricity to be produced by renewable energy has failed to pass Congress. 

The industry is setting its sights even higher: a 25 percent mandate by 2025. Advocates released a study last week by Navigant Consulting that found such a standard would create around 274,000 jobs in the renewable-energy industry.

The renewable-energy advocates also stressed the need to extend expired tax incentives. 

Bode and Resch said the stimulus helped turn 2009 from a dismal year to one of new growth for the sector. The package had about $80 billion in clean-energy incentives.

Bode said the industry had anticipated job losses of 40,000 because of the downturn.

The stimulus was “very successful in keeping our industry alive,” Bode said. 

Some jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector, although new workers were employed in the installation of new turbines.

Resch said the stimulus “protected” 60,000 jobs and created 20,000 new ones. He said there were 19 incentives in the economic recovery package that aided the solar industry and other renewable sectors. 

Resch also said Congress and the administration should restore $2 billion to a loan-guarantee program raided to pay for the popular “cash for clunkers” last summer.

And he said his group would lobby in support of a federal clean-energy “bank” to help support renewable industries through grants, loans and loan guarantees.