Solar, Smart Grid Advocates: Thanks for Passing the Climate Change Bill

The House passed thelegislation that contains provisions that could spur growth in solarand smart grid deployment. But homebuilders and some environmentalgroups aren’t pleased. The controversial bill faces a tough fight inthe Senate. 

TheHouse of Representatives cleared a big hurdle late Friday by passing abill that set goals for reducing the United States’ greenhouse gasemissions, a first in Congressional history.

The vote wasn’t a clear victory for Democrats, however. It passed by 219-212, signaling the tough fight ahead as the bill goes to the Senate for consideration.

The passage nevertheless drew praises from folks in the solarindustry and some major environmental groups. Opposition came fromorganizations such as Greenpeace and the National Association ofHomebuilders. Many Republicans have cast the bill as a "job killer" because it would require businesses to pay to emit.

The centerpiece of the legislation, often called the Waxman-Markeybill because of its sponsors, is a program that would cap the amount ofgreenhouse gas emissions that many industries could emit in the nextfew decades and what how much they might have to pay to meet theemissions requirements.

The bill also sets mandates for the amount of renewable electricitythat must be consumed over time. Roughly 30 states already have similarrequirements, which have driven their utilities to sign long-term powerpurchase agreements for solar and wind electricity or build and operatesolar and wind farms themselves.

"This bill will give more Americans the opportunity to install solaron their homes and businesses, spur deployment of utility-scalesolar while creating tens of thousands of high-paying domestic jobs andstable careers," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar EnergyIndustries Association (SEIA), in a statement.

The legislation also would allow federal agencies to enter into 20-year contracts to buy renewable electricity (see SEIA’s summary of the bill)

An industry group representing companies in the smart grid business also applauded the passage of the Waxman-Markey bill.

"This bill provides both direct and organic incentives for smartgrid deployment," said Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWiseAlliance, in a statement. "Smart grid technologies will be key enablersin developing renewable energy resources and energy efficiency, both ofwhich are critical to climate change mitigation."

The alliance said the legislation contains provisions that wouldencourage the use of smart-grid technologies, such as hardware andsoftware that measure energy consumption and make sure the electricitygrid doesn’t crash during peak hours.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency also would considerappliances with devices to gauge energy use in deciding whether toinclude them in the Energy Star program.

The homebuilders association, on the other hand, said thelegislation puts too much emphasis on improving the energy efficiencyof new homes when many existing homes lack the designs and materials tobe energy efficient.

The Waxman-Markey bill would require new homes to be 30 percent moreenergy efficient than what’s required by the 2006 International EnergyConservation Code. New homes will have to be 50 percent more efficientby 2014.

"That’s simply too far, too fast," said the homebuilderassociation’s chairman Joe Robson, in a statement. "The market is notgeared up to supply the necessary materials and equipment, and that’sgoing to drive up costs. The result will be fewer working-classfamilies in these new energy-efficient homes. They’ll be relegated toolder, less efficient housing stock and face ever higher utility bills."

With the bill, the federal lawmakers are setting greenhouse gasreduction goals . The bill would require the country to cut emissionsby 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

The government would give most of the permits for emittinggreenhouse gases to key polluting industries initially and auction offthe rest. Businesses that emit above limits would have to buy permitsfrom those who pollute less.

This cap-and-trade program would begin in 2012, and each permit foremitting a ton of carbon dioxide would cost $13 initially. The pricesshould go up while the caps on emissions should go down over time.

The details of how this program would still have to be worked out bythe EPA and other agencies, and only after the bill bellows law.

Many Democrats in Congress would like to pass the bill and havePresident Obama sign it before the United States heads to Copenhagenthis December to work on an international treaty to succeed the KyotoProtocol.

That goal could be tough to achieve given the strong opposition thebill already has garnered and the other issues competition forlawmakers’ attention, such as the healthcare reform, said David Gergen,a Harvard professor and former advisor to several U.S. presidents, in aspeech at the Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention in SanFrancisco Thursday (see China’s Big Sway Over U.S.’s Climate Change Fight).

"My sense is that there is a less than 50 percent chance that theSenate will pass this bill before the end of the year," Gergen said.

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