Solar energy grants on the line in Senate vote

The U.S. Senate is about to decide whether to extend a popular Recovery Act renewable energy grant program for solar energy projects.

Negotiations about how to spend on a new round of tax cuts may have narrowed Washington's policy vision, but one Senator is determined to clear the myopia to focus on boosting the development of solar energy projects.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate's powerful Finance Committee, slipped an amendment into a new tax cut package that the Senate is scheduled to vote on Saturday morning.

The bill reduces the federal income tax rate for people making under US$250,000, but has been the subject of political acrimony over the procedures that were used to bring it to the floor.

Baucus's amendment continues an American Recovery and Investment Act grant program (Section 1603) that is set to expire at year's end. Section 1603 is estimated to have added more than 11 Gigawatts of renewable power into the U.S. energy grid - as much as was added over the past few decades combined.

The amendment invests $2.5 billion in manufacturing tax credits, and extends Section 1603 for another year while granting participants direct payments.

Pundits are skeptical about whether the bill has the necessary votes to pass the Senate, and opponents are declaring it a political exercise.

Photo: MiaSolé

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com