As politicians eye 2020 elections, they’re missing a glaring opportunity to deliver a win on climate for all Americans.
While a major climate bill seems unlikely in advance of the 2020 election, Congress doesn’t need to wait to take action on our energy future. We already have proven, successful policies on the books that can help.
Earlier this summer, more than 900 solar companies sent a letter to Congress calling for an extension of the 30 percent solar investment tax credit (ITC). Without politically viable options on the table to address climate change, the ITC is the strongest policy we have to create clean energy jobs, invest billions into our economy, and power our country with carbon-free and reliable solar energy.
We know the ITC works — it’s a proven bipartisan tax policy that helped create the solar industry we know today. Since its inception in 2006 under President Bush, solar prices have dropped more than 80 percent and cumulative solar deployment has increased by more than 10,000 percent. The ITC has generated $140 billion in private investment, created thousands of U.S. businesses and more than 200,000 jobs.
This American success story is still being written, and we have a chance to build on it with an extension of the ITC. Preliminary research from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables shows that by 2030, an extension of the credit would result in an additional 81 gigawatts of solar deployment. To put that in context, extending the ITC would result in 363 million fewer metric tons of CO2 emissions added to our atmosphere from 2020 to 2030. Those are real results for our climate and our economic future.
Looking ahead to 2030, solar will be the leading source of new electricity generation as cities and states aim to power their operations with increasing amounts of renewable energy on short timelines.
If solar reaches 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation by 2030, we’ll hit 14 million installations and invest $50 billion annually. We’ll grow the solar workforce to more than 600,000 professionals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 300 million metric tons annually, which is equivalent to about 20 percent of all electric sector emissions.
To be clear, the solar industry makes a strong business case on its own. Regardless of what happens in Washington, the industry will keep growing. It’s not about standing on our own two feet but about maximizing the benefits of this clean energy resource for all Americans.
Polling shows that Republicans and Democrats agree that there is a need to address climate policy. The costs of not acting will be in the trillions of dollars.
Our push to extend the ITC is about accelerating the growth of energy sources that preserve the climate and public health. Through policy certainty and the right recipe for private investment, we can deploy the 420 gigawatts of solar we’ll need to reach our 2030 goals. It’s about companies hiring more workers from communities across the country and it will spur innovation. Letting the ITC expire will effectively stifle market opportunities for the 10,000 companies that work in the industry today, and to whose benefit?
As we race ahead to the 2020s — what we’re calling the Solar+ Decade — solar will combine with storage, wind and other renewables to completely reshape our energy landscape. To do this, we need the right policy mechanisms in place. The ITC is one piece of this puzzle, and we’ll need to continue our state-level advocacy efforts as incumbent generators fight to stave off obsolescence.
Already, members of Congress are beginning to see the importance of this policy to so many Americans. A bipartisan coalition recently introduced the Renewable Energy Extension Act, which calls for a five-year extension of the ITC.
As Congress returns from August recess, one thing should be crystal clear: Now is not the time to turn our backs on one of the most successful federal policies we have to reduce emissions, today.
We cannot afford to stop our progress now — millions of potential business and household customers, as well as the hundreds of millions of Americans concerned with the health of our planet.
Abigail Ross Hopper is president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade organization for the U.S. solar energy industry.