Election Puts Solar Energy in Danger

Just when you thought the United States was far enough behind in renewable energy, here come the midterm elections. Should the Republicans regain control of the House, as widely anticipated, one of the biggest losers is likely to be solar power.

The Republican takeover of the House would likely give us John Boehner of Ohio as the new speaker. It would mean that the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce committee would reportedly fall into the hands of either Joe Barton of Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan, Cliff Stearns of Florida, or John Shimkus of Illinois.

All of them voted against major clean energy legislation passed by the Democratic majority in 2009 or 2010, with Boehner, Barton, and Stearns earning a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters. Boehner staged an infamous hour-long mini-filibuster against the House climate-change bill. He has also railed that any international agreements on greenhouse gas emissions "will devastate the Ohio economy and will kill more jobs at a time we can least afford it.''

Barton was the congressman who embarrassed even some Republicans by apologizing to BP for the grilling it got on Capitol Hill in the wake of its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He promised that if he becomes the chairman of the energy committee, he would "aggressively oversee the Environmental Protection Agency,'' to the point of reviewing the EPA's finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health.

Upton, who reportedly has an inside track on the chairmanship because Barton is such a lightning rod, has said he would eliminate the House select committee on climate change, calling it a "wasteful committee.''

In a recent op-ed column in the Washington Times, he seconded Barton's pledge to attack the EPA, calling the agency a "regulatory train wreck'' that is "smothering the economy . . . If the EPA continues unabated, jobs will be shipped to China and India as energy costs skyrocket.''

This of course, is all a smoke screen for the fact that our inaction on climate change and alternative energy, led by the Republicans and fossil-fuel-state Democrats, is already shipping jobs to China. That nation is currently on pace to produce more than half of the world's solar panels. The New York Times reported last week that just as many American solar energy projects are getting off the ground, the federal loan guarantees and tax credits promoting their construction are about to expire. Analyst Ted Sullivan told the Times that the failure to renew the incentives "could stall a number of projects and even lead to the failure of some.''

The city of Boston, anticipating the end of the incentives, announced this week it will cut building permit fees for projects that include solar power. But Jim Hunt, the city's environment and energy chief, fully admitted that it only will partially let the sun shine in on alternative energy. "I think the federal investment tax credit and the utility funds that are available to subsidize solar far outweigh what cities can offer,'' Hunt told the Globe.

Studies laying out the economic benefits of solar, wind, and other renewables are at the point where researchers from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, two think tanks often on opposing sides of the political spectrum, joined a call last month for the government to spend $25 billion a year to promote clean energy. Sadly, there is not such bipartisanship in Washington between Republicans and Democrats. If the Republicans take over the House and they are as obstructionist as they promise to be, we may fall so far behind in solar that we may never catch up. It is bad enough we allowed ourselves to be beholden to oil. If we do not watch out, we will have no say in solar, either.

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