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Republicans Seek to Help Clean Energy in Next Virus Aid Package

July 23, 2020, 2:33 PM

Seven Senate Republicans today are urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to add a host of clean energy incentives including wind, solar, and nuclear power to the next Covid-19 economic recovery bill.

The letter, obtained by Bloomberg Law and meant to show GOP support for helping the ailing clean energy sector, was signed by Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Burr (N.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

The renewable energy sector—struggling amid the pandemic—and its congressional allies say additional support could return hundreds of thousands of workers to clean energy projects. There is little hope of getting the added incentives in the bill McConnell plans to unveil, but clean energy advocates see a window of opportunity in negotiations that will be needed to reconcile an already-passed House bill with any measure the Senate passes.

The aid could range from extending soon-to-expire tax credits to so-called “direct payments"—essentially a Treasury Department cash advance for renewable energy projects now instead of having them wait for future tax credits, a change that would provide the industry much-needed liquidity.

The letter steers clear of specifics but the clean energy sector was among the brightest spots in the U.S. economy prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the GOP senators warn that all “of that work is now being undermined in the blink of an eye” by the economic fallout.

“Continuing to scale up the clean energy sector would grow jobs, support U.S. energy independence, economic resilience, and will be essential for global competitiveness,” the senators wrote.

McConnell’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Industry Pressure

The pressure is growing as the pandemic decimates clean energy businesses.

“We’re going to have to delay projects, like many others, if we can’t sort of solve for how to structure this tax equity benefit in the near term,” said Jam Attari, CEO at BayWa.r.e, a renewable energy developer.

Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. clean energy sector was one of the bright spots for the U.S. economy, with a total workforce of 3.4 million employees in 2019, and the sector grew twice as fast as the overall U.S. economy since 2017. The sector rebounded slightly in June, but more than half a million workers filed for unemployment claims between March and June, according to an industry analysis.

Backing clean energy “can save jobs right now and revitalize our economy for years to come,” said Bob Keefe, executive director the E2 clean energy group. “Kicking the can down the road on clean energy while Covid cases worsen and business conditions deteriorate would be a double blow to our economy and Americans’ future prosperity.”

Potential Blueprint

House and Senate Democrats called on congressional leaders in June to put the ailing wind, solar, and other renewable energy producers front and center in the next round of Covid-19 recovery packages, partly by extending expiring clean energy tax credits.

A bill backed by about 50 House Democrats could be a blueprint for putting clean energy incentives on the table. The package (H.R. 7330) stitches together what have been Democratic priorities for years, but the bill would also offer significant benefits for carbon capture and storage, a climate-friendly technology not always embraced by House Democrats.

If negotiators open the door to wind and solar incentives, the Carbon Capture Coalition, which includes coal producers, oil companies, labor unions, and some environmental groups, wants their own incentives on the table, including “direct pay” for carbon capture projects and a multi-year extension of the Section 45Q carbon capture tax credit.

“From our perspective, if the parties choose to agree to open that door in negotiations, then we are very confident 45Q will be included as a priority now for both parties,” said Brad Crabtree, director of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Some of the largest U.S. cement, steel, and chemical manufacturers joined the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy also joined together in letter to urge congressional leaders to consider policies in any recovery bill to encourage investment in low-carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com; Kaustuv Basu in Washington at kbasu@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; Colleen Murphy at cmurphy@bloombergtax.com

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