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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

Renewable energy grant program extension likely

WASHINGTON — A large bloc of House and Senate Democrats rallied behind a Treasury Department plan for renewable energy Thursday, bolstering the chances of the cash grant program being extended in the tax cut package.

“I hope that they will be in there and I believe they probably will,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the program was added to the tax package. But he cautioned it was not a done deal.

Seventeen senators and 81 House members urged their leaders to renew the cash grants in separate letters, calling them essential to wind, solar and other renewable energy industries in the U.S.

The tax cut package negotiated by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans did not extend the program. That means it is scheduled to expire at the end of this month. It was created by the federal stimulus law.

“We will have difficulty supporting tax legislation currently being drafted for Senate consideration that fails to include an extension,” the senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “If Congress allows taxes to rise on renewable development, momentum would be lost and the growth of renewable energy would be jeopardized.”

The letter was led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

The House bloc led by Reps. Mike Thompson of California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon urged a two-year extension, pitching their effort at a Capitol Hill news conference.

“This is about jobs,” Thompson said.

Blumenauer said that when Democrats met with Vice President Joe Biden this week on the tax package, he expressed interest in the program but indicated there was resistance from Republicans. Messages left Thursday with House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were not returned.

Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said that 20,000 people would be laid off in her industry in the next three months if the program ended.

“This is survival,” she said. “We've never had as much at risk.”

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