Silver Lining to a Bad Energy Policy

The solar industry got a definite boost by way of the recently passed energy bill. But oil & gas, coal and nuclear--got billions in more tax credits and incentives. As if Big Oil needed it: Exxon-Mobil alone made $25 billion in profits last year--more than any U.S. corporation in history.

On July 28-29 both houses of Congress passed an energy bill that had been parsed together then picked apart, hammered, maligned and abused from its faint beginnings in the last years of the Clinton Administration. What resulted is an example of the greed and avarice of the Oil Baron era 100 years ago.

Renewable Energy Access reports that despite lawmakers' proclamations the bill could lower gas prices and reduce America's dependence on foriegn energy sources, the bill will do little to change either. In fact there are few, if any, tangible benefits for the regular U.S. citizen.

"If I was a homeowner and flipping through a newspaper story on the energy bill, I would get pretty depressed at the $14 billion of giveaways for industries that, frankly, are enjoying record profits," said Rhone Resch, executive director of Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "But the one provision in the bill that all Americans can take advantage of right away is to install solar on their roofs."

Resch's point isn't just sour grapes. Exxon-Mobil alone made $25 billion in profits last year, as if Big Oil needed help. Yet, as the saying goes "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile," the solar section of the bill is the best national legislation that's happened to the solar industry in over 20 years. Once signed by Bush here are the solar benefits:

* The new act will increase the permanent 10% business energy credit for solar to 30% for two years beginning January 1, 2006. Eligible technologies include photovoltaics, solar water heaters, concentrating solar power, and solar hybrid lighting. Unless extended, the 10% tax credit goes back into effect on two years later.

* The law establishes a 30% residential energy credit for solar for two years, again beginning this January. This credit is capped at $2000 for residential systems.

For Californians the new energy act will help offset the state energy tax credit which ends December 31. This state credit is now 7.5% of the system cost after deducting the California Energy Commission rebate. On larger systems the 7.5% tax credit can be considerably more than the $2000 cap the feds will be giving. But it's definitely better than nothing.

As one who experienced the student anti-war activism of the early 70s and later as a GI in Germany, this writer has to take one last parting shot...

Just as our troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, I remember Bob Simon of CBS News report that if all American cars were made to get 40 miles per gallon of gas, the U.S. wouldn't need one drop of foriegn oil. The new energy act does nothing to increase gas efficiency--in fact certain loopholes have actually decreased gas mileage in this country since the 80s.

Think what could happen if we didn't need foriegn oil. The Arabs wouldn't have nearly the funds to threaten us financially or militarily. European prices for oil could come down while alternatives in hydrogen cells, solar, wind and geothermal could get more deeply established.

Obviously the best reason to mandate better gas mileage in American cars is that we won't need to pay for oil with blood anymore.

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