Rep. Tonko Likes Odds on Extending Wind and Solar Tax Credits

Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat representing New York, says
he’s optimistic targeted pieces of clean energy legislation will
move through Congress in the coming months, including an investment
tax credit extension for both solar and wind.

“A comprehensive climate bill is not going to be possible this
Congress, but we know there are meaningful policies that stand a
chance of garnering bipartisan, bicameral support in this current
moment,” Tonko said at the recent Clean Energy Week summit in
Washington, D.C.

Tax policy was the first area he identified for progress.

Tonko, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and
chairs the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, noted
that a
letter of support
for “critical clean energy tax credits”
continues to build support in the House of Representatives. The
letter calls for extending investment tax credits to both solar and
wind energy, and extending incentives to additional clean energy
technologies, including energy storage, energy efficiency and
offshore wind.

In July, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House introduced
legislation that would extend the solar
Investment Tax Credit
for five years at its full 30 percent
value. Democrats introduced companion legislation in the Senate,
but neither bill has advanced.

Tonko said is he is confident the legislation will move.

“We’ve had several communications with the chair of the Ways
and Means Committee, we’ve talked to members, we’ve talked to
staff. They are very open to the push that we are making,” he
said in an interview on the event’s sidelines.

Tonko said he has urged Democratic House leadership to include
tax policy updates in any agenda they put forward, and so far the
response has been positive.

“I think the odds are good,” he said. “They really want to
do a green tax policy package.”

But even if the House succeeds in passing a pro clean technology
tax bill, it would still have to pass through the
Republican-controlled Senate. When asked how he sees tax
legislation making it past Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,
Tonko said that he sees public opinion forcing Republicans to
act.

“The public sentiment is driving this issue right now.
There’s no denying it’s really risen exponentially in the
polls,” he said. “And so I think that this is one of the things
[Senate Republicans] can do without feeling like they don’t have
the numbers that they need.”

“The public sentiment driving this may make the difference,”
he added.

Is activism translating to policy action?

Numerous polls show that Americans widely support the deployment
of renewable energy. A Gallup
survey
from March, for instance, found that 80 percent of
respondents believe that the U.S. should put more emphasis on
producing domestic energy from solar, and 70 percent believe there
should be greater emphasis on wind.

Last fall, the Yale Program for Climate Communication released

a report
that found nearly 80 percent of respondents support
offering tax credits for rooftop solar and just over 70 percent
support providing incentives to individuals for the purchase of an
electric vehicle.

Recent youth climate strikes have amplified calls for
accelerating the deployment of renewable energy resources and
increasing government spending on green energy plans.

Despite this momentum, Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from
Utah, expressed skepticism that clean energy legislation would move
in the Senate near-term. 

“The majority leader decides what we can vote on,” Romney
said at the Clean Energy Week summit. “If it’s something maybe
three or four of his members would find uncomfortable for his
reelection campaign, then it may be something he doesn’t want to
put on the floor.”

“So the politics have to change,” he continued. “You have
to have a stronger and stronger perspective this is something that
will affect your reelection.”

Are climate strikes shifting U.S. politics? Listen to our
discussion in
this recent episode
of Political
Climate
.

For Romney at least, U.S. clean energy policy is all about
expanding the use of American technology and expertise around the
world. While he didn’t explicitly call for extending existing tax
credits to wind and solar, he acknowledged that investment tax
credits are a compelling way to support greater technology
adoption. Romney also backed the concept of a carbon tax and
dividend program.

“Those are two models that create incentives for
innovation,” he said. “For me, that’s how I look at these
different ideas related to the climate. It’s not just ‘will it
make America emit less CO2 and methane? But will it lead to the
adoption of technology around the world?’ Because that’s the
only way we’re going to get the curve of CO2 and methane… to
come down.”

Congressman Matt Gaetz, Republican from Florida and author of
the
Green Real Deal
— the Republican response to Rep. Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — said last month that he
believes Congress and the White House could back some form of
carbon pricing mechanism.

“I believe that we could have a pollution tariff that would be
embraced by the president, his allies and potentially those on the
left who would like to see more responsible and effective
approaches to climate change,” he said.

An icy Washington, D.C.

Tax mechanisms aren’t the only type of clean energy policy
that could get caught up in Washington D.C.’s glacial political
process.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently
reported 21 energy and water bills out of committee on a largely
bipartisan basis, including the
Grid Modernization Act of 2019
Energy
Cybersecurity Act of 2019
and the
Smart Building Acceleration Act of 2019
.

The committee also passed the
BEST Act
, which would require the Department of Energy to
deploy up to five large-scale energy storage demonstration projects
and develop a 10-year strategic plan and cost targets for
grid-scale energy storage systems.

These bills move the Senate closer to forming a comprehensive
energy innovation package, but will remain stalled until the
majority leader brings them to the floor. Senate Energy Committee
Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has acknowledged that legislation is

slow moving
right now, but said she will continue to tee up
bills with bipartisan, bicameral support for when Sen. McConnell is
ready to move them forward.

In the House, Rep. Gaetz placed the blame squarely on Democratic
leaders for not advancing legislation that both parties already
agree on. For instance, he sees no reason why Democrats and
Republicans can’t agree on investing in the electrical grid to
support the deployment of all available clean energy technologies,
including nuclear and hydropower.

“This is a distinct departure from the crony capitalism policy
of using government as a venture capitalist, ingrained with a
specific company or a specific business model,” he said. “An
electric grid is a platform that can be used by all
innovators.”

“It’s so frustrating to me to see the polar ice caps melt
while this town remains frozen,” he added.

New bills on DERs, EVs and transmission

Meanwhile, Rep. Tonko said he’s not sitting idle. He said he’s
focused on advancing legislation that will restore budget cuts to
the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and
Renewable Energy and ARPA-E program.

In addition, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has already
advanced several efficiency bills, including authorization for a
weatherization program, which he hopes will come to the floor
before the end of the year.

Tonko said he’s also working on a new set of bills to streamline
the permitting process for distributed energy resources such as
rooftop solar, deploying more publicly accessible electric vehicle
charging infrastructure, and improving the regional planning
process for transmission lines needed to support vast amounts of
remotely located renewable energy. More details are expected in the
months ahead.

At the same time, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will
continue to hold hearings on legislation introduced in July to
develop a
100 percent clean economy
, defined as producing net zero
greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with upcoming hearings on
heavy-duty transportation and the power sector.

Tonko said it’s imperative that policymaking “go beyond
research funding and tax mechanisms.” But he did not offer any
forecasts for when a more comprehensive climate and clean energy
bill would pass.

“We are committed to taking this rigorous approach, trying to
build consensus and relying on policies that are based on business
and engineering, not politics,” he said.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Rep. Tonko Likes Odds on Extending Wind and Solar Tax Credits