Monday, December 15, 2008

Solar on the Ground

A nice example of what can call solar's policy slump appeared in the Baltimore Sun over the weekend. It's about a possible increase in tax credits for solar installations in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Note the very small numbers involved in the tax credits: "The tax credit would be for 50 percent of the cost of a system or $2,500, whichever is less," although the actual cost of an installation can be $30,000. The program's virtue in tough economic times is that almost no one uses it: "The current solar panel tax credit cost the county a little more than $11,000 in the past 18 months."

US solar is a patchwork of local efforts, and those continuing now have to compete head to head with "gap" payments to the staff of convalescent hospitals and the like. Nothing is more obvious than the need for a policy of national scope.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Renewable Energy Policy Moment

Writing at Renewable Energy World, Scott Sklar offers a helpful summary of the market forces currently battering renewables - declining energy demand, postponed investments in response, and more subtly, the declining impact of tax credits as the recession reduces companies' existing tax obligations.

Mr. Sklar's main solution is greatly improved procurement policies. Given the fragmented, labyrinthian nature of the federal government's programs, plus of course those of the 50 states, he writes the following:
To reorient existing federal capital (loan, guarantee and bond programs) and existing procurement programs would requite a totally new approach by the Obama Administration. New procurement tools would need to be fashioned not only to accelerate procurements but aggregate procurements and leverage them regionally in concert with other state and local government procurement programs.

This would require White House coordination with mandatory participation by OMB, GSA, DOE's Federal Energy Management Program, and even DOD to insure these procurement and coordination tools could be realized
Nice understatement. Effective procurement requires a kind of revolution in the federal bureaucracy. It would be interesting to know if the upside of the Obama appointments' bias toward the thinking of the 1990s would be some capaciaty for massive consolidation and coordination - the Manhattan Project that energy needs.

There are some good ideas coming out of the transition team. For example, read the transition team co-chair John Podesta's piece on Green Recovery.