A great new bill was introduced to Congress yesterday (how often do you get to write a sentence like that these days?). Authored by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), it would create incentives and tax rebates for solar roofs and solar water heaters. The bill aims to get 10 million solar roofs and 200,000 solar heaters up and running--producing a total of 30,000 megawatts--over the next 10 years. Quite frankly, this is a very, very good idea.First of all, 'distributed' solar projects like those that appear on roofs and along transmission lines are enjoying a surge right now. 1300 megawatts of such distributed solar projects have been approved in California in just the last couple of weeks. Why is this? Because distributed solar is far more versatile and easier to get clearance install--they face far fewer regulations than mammoth solar plants like those proposed for the Mojave desert.
As a result, such projects are popping up all over the place, especially in states with solar incentives like California. Sanders' bill, in fact, uses those incentives as a model for his legislation. Here's Grist on what Sanders' bill would do:
the "10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act" ... would provide rebates that cover up to half the cost of new systems, along the lines of incentive programs in California and New Jersey (not coincidentally, Nos. 1 and 2 in installed solar in the U.S.). It also includes measures to insure that those who receive assistance get information on how to make their buildings more energy efficient.Such a generous tax break would make distributed solar extremely attractive, especially considering that the price of photovoltaic cells keeps on dropping. Additional benefits include the fact that distributed solar--like solar roof--projects can be easily linked to the grid, and can create jobs swiftly, thanks to the fact that there are relatively few assessment hurdles to be jumped.
Dave Roberts interviewed Sanders about his new bill, and while the entire piece is well worth reading, I'll excerpt a couple of the pertinent bits here:
On what the bill would cost:
Bernie Sanders: "We think this will cost between 2 and 3 billion dollars a year, and at the end of a 10-year period we are going to be producing 30,000 new megawatts of energy--the equivalent of what 30 nuclear power plants produce. This is a very cost effective way of producing that energy.
On the mechanics of the bill:
"Remember that there are already a lot of tax credits, federal and in many states. The federal tax credit would be up to 30 percent off the cost of a project. That's a lot. Let's say hypothetically you wanted to spend $40,000 on solar. If you take 30 percent off that, you're down to $28,000. If you get state help you're down to $25,000. Then the federal government would pay half of that.
"That's a pretty good deal! It could be a major incentive for people to use photovoltaics. And the more photovoltaics we use, the more will be built; the more that are built, the cheaper it becomes."
10 Million Solar Roofs
If this goes forward, it will be a great way to stimulate development in solar more evenly across the nation, creating jobs, and adding clean energy capacity in a sort of easily digestible, piecemeal fashion.
In essence, this is a quick, relatively efficient, relatively inexpensive way to create clean energy and jobs. To say that we need more senators with vision like Sanders' may be the understatement of the year.