Mar 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The renewable energy industry wants a piece of the coronavirus stimulus

An illustration of the world as a pendulum.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Renewable energy industries and some Democrats have begun efforts to ensure the economic response to the coronavirus outbreak helps a sector that's suddenly facing strong headwinds.

The state of play: The industry has already had discussions with lawmakers' offices about how to proceed, Axios has learned.

  • Lawmakers and the White House are working on a $1 trillion coronavirus rescue package, which is bringing new interest in how it will affect specific industries.

Where it stands: Industry officials are taking pains to emphasize that COVID-19 is a public health crisis and back providing fast support to families and small businesses.

  • But they also say broader legislation under discussion to address the economic fallout should consider how the crisis is hitting the sector.
  • "Customer demand for solar has plummeted and companies are seeing significant construction slowdowns, project cancellations, labor shortages, and a host of logistical problems tied to equipment and delivery delays," said Abigail Ross Hopper, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

What's next: One set of goals is providing companies more flexibility around deadlines for using existing tax incentives, and changes to their structure to adapt to the economic shock, an industry official said.

  • "Widespread supply chain disruptions and a rapid deterioration of the tax equity market are putting renewable energy projects significantly at risk," Bill Parsons, chief operating officer for the American Council on Renewable Energy, tells Axios.
  • He said Congress should provide "emergency relief" from so-called commence construction and placed-in-service deadlines that developers face to use credits, as well as "refundability to monetize time-sensitive renewable energy credits."
  • And a broader economic stimulus bill should include the new and extended clean energy tax incentives left on the cutting room floor in the late 2019 congressional spending deal, he said.
  • Per Morning Consult, the longstanding ad-hoc House group called the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition has taken up the mantle of pushing for the tax provisions in the rescue package.

UPDATE: On Thursday morning, five renewable energy groups and an energy storage trade association sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling for "prompt repair and extension of critically important tax incentives to help the clean energy sector surmount the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Flashback: There's precedent for using an economic rescue package to support climate-friendly sectors.

  • The $800 billion 2009 stimulus contained roughly $90 billion for a suite of low-carbon energy, efficiency and transit programs.
  • It included a program to provide grants in lieu of tax credits for renewables projects because the tax equity market had collapsed alongside the financial sector.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a new letter to Capitol Hill from renewable energy organizations.

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