Bill to lift solar power halted by Republicans

The solar energy industry is poised to pump billions of dollars into the Nevada economy and create thousands of jobs — but advocates say the Senate on Tuesday shot down a bill needed to give the sun power industry a jump-start.

Republicans for the second time in a week prevented the Senate from taking up a tax bill providing more than $50 billion in renewable-energy credits and tax breaks for families and businesses.

The vote Tuesday to move to the legislation was 52-44, eight short of the 60 votes needed. Only five Republicans voted to end the filibuster against action on the bill; others objected to the Democratic plan to pay for the tax relief by making some hedge fund managers and multinational corporations pay more taxes.

Opponents argued that tax relief should not be matched with what they regarded as tax increases.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for the renewable-energy tax credits but switched to oppose the bill because of provisions that allow him to bring back the bill later for another vote.

“Just as they have done with every opportunity to strengthen our weakening economy and lower record gas prices, Republicans today said no to helping businesses invest in renewable energy,” Reid said following the vote.

Sen. John Ensign, R.-Nev., said he voted against the bill because it contained tax increases to offset the cost of the tax benefit for renewables, and a controversial “tax earmark” for New York.

Ensign said Democrats should abandon the bill in its present form.

“The Democrats’ plan has failed five times now,” Ensign said. “Instead of continuing to push a partisan bill doomed by a veto threat, we should work together to achieve a bipartisan solution on renewable energy.”

Ensign got into a fight with the solar energy industry last week when lobbyists criticized his opposition to the Democrats’ bill.

Ensign said he supported tax breaks for renewables but not in a bill that raises other taxes to offset the costs. The bill that failed on Tuesday raised $54 million mainly by curtailing a deferred compensation scheme employed by financiers and hedge fund managers.

On June 10, the vote to move to the bill was 50-44, 10 short.

“The entire industry has ground to a halt waiting for the elected officials to work this out for us,” said Chris Brooks, director of the renewable-energy division of Bombard Electric Co. and vice president of SolarNV, a chapter of the American Solar Energy Society.

The number of Bombard electricians working on solar power projects has dropped to 20 from 95, as clients became pessimistic about the bill.

Bombard Electric is involved in $100 million in solar power projects that will be shelved if the renewable tax credit isn’t extended beyond its current Dec. 31 expiration, Brooks said.

Other big solar projects already are canceled, he said, because the client didn’t believe the project could be completed by year-end and qualify for a 30 percent investment tax credit.

It’s not too late for homeowners to get up to $2,000 in tax credits by installing solar panels before year’s end, Brooks said.

The Bureau of Land Management has applications for proposed solar power plants capable of generating 10,000 megawatts of electricity, more energy than the state consumes today, according to an industry analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The projects, if all completed, would bring $50 billion in investment to the state and create 20,000 jobs over an eight-year period.

Already announced are 22 announced solar thermal projects, ranging from three already in operation to others planned in the desert Southwest. They would generate 4,900 megawatts of electricity, according to the Solar Industry Association of America.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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