With the Senate's plans for energy up in the air, what's at stake for industry if new legislation does not pass? During today's OnPoint, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, discusses his industry's legislative agenda for the fall, including a push to extend the Treasury Grant Program. He gives his take on prospects for an energy package and discusses the United States' economic recovery.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is a Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Rhone, it's nice to have you back on the show.
Rhone Resch: Thank you, it's great to be here, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Rhone, as Congress starts to make its way back into town, there are many questions still about how energy is going to be addressed over the next couple of months. What would you consider, what legislation would you consider absolutely essential to your industry to see passed before the end of the year?
Rhone Resch: Well, the 111th Congress has done a lot in the sense of putting together policies that support the industry and help grow it in the near term. And then there's been a lot of talk about how we really grow the industry in the long term. But during all of that period of conversation and debate, we've seen the industry continue to grow. Well, we're now at a point where some of the policies are about to expire and it's absolutely critical that we keep those policies in place and that we allow the industries to continue to grow in 2011. A couple of programs in specific, the Treasury grant program or the Section 1603 program that was created in order to monetize the investment tax credit for all of the renewable energy industries expires at the end of this year. This program has created more jobs than the automotive industry, than Wall Street, than the oil and gas industries have in the United States in the last 18 months. So it's absolutely critical that we keep these programs in place going forward so small businesses and large businesses can thrive here in the U.S.
Monica Trauzzi: Is there traction on extending this program. I mean are people talking about it on the Hill?
Rhone Resch: Absolutely, there's bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. I think people recognize that this is one of the few programs that came out of the Recovery Act that creates jobs in all 50 states and that you're looking at and supporting small businesses, medium businesses, as well as utility scale businesses. Yu know, so the lack of kind of an energy policy that we've had in the last year and a half has been reflected in the fact that we're growing industries based on the Treasury grant program today.
Monica Trauzzi: I know you have some impressive numbers that are associated with what the program has done for your industry.
Rhone Resch: Yeah, so the industry, I should say the program has been in place for about a year and three months, so not that long, but already the renewable energy industries, in total, have created about $17 billion worth of economic activity directly linked with the Treasury grant program. And when you look at the solar industry, you're talking about 850 individual projects, everything from small mom-and-pop installations on dry cleaners all the way to utility-scale projects. And so what you're finding is you're supporting manufacturing in Michigan, you're creating opportunities for electricians and plumbers in Florida, Nevada, and other states that have really been hard hit by the downturn in the economy.
Monica Trauzzi: So, is your industry and other renewable industries, are you managing expectations for the next couple of months? What are the discussions behind closed doors?
Rhone Resch: Well, you know, I think the difficulty really is one of timeframe. It's an election year. Congress is only back in session for three weeks at this point and so we're really emphasizing the need to try to pass tax policy. We think it's one of the few vehicles that's going to be moving and that the Treasury grant program in specific should be part of that package. We've heard from leadership this is absolutely critical, from both sides of the aisle. We've heard from the administration that they want to make sure we're providing more incentives for small, as well as large, businesses in this downturn. I think when these programs were originally created there was a hope that the economy would recover faster than it has. And so many of the problems that this program was created to address, frankly, the lack of tax equity and then also debt financing in this country still exists. Frankly, Wall Street hasn't bounced back as much as we'd like.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, so the renewable electricity standard, another big thing that's been discussed all year, looks like it's probably not going to be considered during the fall session or lame duck session even. What does that mean for your industry and other renewable energy industries?
Rhone Resch: Well, we're still going to push, Monica. We're going to make a very concerted effort. We are. We had an announcement earlier today that really brought together not only the entire renewable energy community, but the environmental community and the labor unions to really say this is critical legislation for growing, manufacturing and growing jobs here in the United States. So we're going to continue to push right up until the end of December to try to get a renewable electricity standard passed. I think what is important to point out about this is that it does enjoy bipartisan support and it's really up to Senator Reid and the leadership to put this on the agenda. And we think if it gets on the agenda it will pass later this year.
Monica Trauzzi: The economy has been slow to recover. What's your take on how the administration is focusing on green jobs now that we have not seen that recovery that they were hoping for? Is there still an emphasis on green job creation?
Rhone Resch: Absolutely. I mean I think it's one of the bright spots in the economy. Just to kind of give you a perspective, last year the solar industry grew by about 40 percent. We created over 17,000 new jobs. This year we're expecting to grow by over 100 percent, creating an additional 35,000 jobs in the United States. Same thing is occurring in the wind industry, geothermal, hydro industries, energy efficiency as well. And so, although it's difficult to calculate these numbers because so many are distributed or small businesses or people converting from being an electrician to being a solar installer, you're seeing new economic opportunity around the country. And that's being recognized, not only by the president showing up at ribbon cuttings for new factories, but you're also seeing Republican congressmen and senators, you're seeing Tea Party candidates as well as libertarians come out to some of these openings and say, hey, you know what, this is about economic growth. This is about jobs. This isn't about one party supporting an industry over another. This is about how we grow the economy. So I think the support that you've seen from the administration really is a reflection of support we're getting from all of the parties around the country.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there.
Rhone Resch: OK.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.
Rhone Resch: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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