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Solar Industry Seeks Federal Aid, Stronger Incentives

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Automakers aren’t the only companies seeking federal aid this week. Yesterday members of the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, urged Congress and President-elect Barack Obama’s administration to help tide over solar companies until January, when a 30 percent solar investment tax credit passed in the economic stimulus bill will take effect. Until then, said Suntech America (s STP) CEO Roger Efird, the trade group’s chairman, the credit should be refundable so that smaller companies with lower tax burdens can take full advantage of the allowance.

SEIA outlined this and other economic policy priorities in yesterday’s announcement, calling for solar installations on government buildings and lands, tax incentives for manufacturing equipment, infrastructure upgrades (such as a solar version of the transmission project AEP is considering for wind), and new requirements for utilities to generate a set portion of their electricity from renewable sources, with a special breakout for solar.

While SEIA stressed that the economic crisis makes these policies especially urgent (with enough support, the industry says it could create millions of jobs), this week’s announcement largely echoes the policies SEIA put forth last month with representatives from wind, geothermal, and hydropower trade associations. Another proposed initiative — creation of a government corporation, or clean energy bank, dedicated to investing in renewable energy projects — also sounds familiar. Last summer, the nuclear industry pushed, unsuccessfully, for a direct-loan and guarantee program, something like an independent version of the Loan Guarantee Program now run by the Department of Energy.

According to a senior Obama aide who spoke with the International Herald Tribune on condition of anonymity, at least one of SEIA’s proposed policies — infrastructure development — may come through in a jobs and energy-efficiency program that the future administration and Congress now have in the works. The federal government will probably offer “billions of dollars in grants to state and local governments for mass transit and infrastructure projects,” IHT reports today, and include at least $15 billion a year for green initiatives in a $400 billion to $500 billion stimulus plan.